I was given The Truth and Other Lies by Sacha Arango by the lovely Elizabeth Preston on my last visit to London, and I could not be happier, because I have to admit that I would not have picked the book for myself in a book shop. Elizabeth is a great friend of mine, and she knows what I like to read – we finally met in real life at this year’s CrimeFest, talk about common interests! – so, I trusted her when she said I would love this book. She was right.
Fiction is the truth inside a lie.
The Truth and Other Lies tells the story of Henry Hayden, a best-selling author leading a tranquil life in a little town with her wife, Martha, while working on his next novel. Until everything falls apart. We soon learn that it is not Henry himself who writes the novels, it is his wife, but trying to escape all fame, and success, she lets him publish the texts under his name. Martha writes at night, art for art’s sake, while Henry leads a socially active, and very public life. The dualism between the couple, the way they complement each other, reminds the reader of old-fashioned narratives, and I could not but resent the way Martha was relegated to the private, domestic sphere – Martha does not even accompany Henry to literary festivals or readings – while Henry did all the social activities related to being a writer. However, Arango goes beyond this simply gender-biased construction of social roles, using some meta and postmodern techniques that I’d rather let you discover by reading the novel. This is one of the things that I loved most about the novel: because it is a writer’s story, there are constant references to writing, narratives, and images, that make the novel a very complex text.
The book is compared to Patricia Highsmith’s work, and I can see why. The characters, as well as the themes, felt very classic, and I wondered a few times while reading, if Arango is trying to pay homage to mid-century crime fiction writers. However, his writing is strong enough to stand on his own, and I plan on keeping an eye on him. It took me only three sittings to finish the novel, and even though the female characters were somehow irritating – I quote: “Man is his own worst enemy; women’s worst enemy is other women”– I loved the little surprises that the meta-text gifts the reader with. And, above all, I loved the way Arango made me want to know more about Henry, and about Martha.