The Liar (novel)
|Publication date||September 1991|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||240 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-434-27191-8 (first edition, hardback) & ISBN 0-7493-0540-1 (paperback edition)|
The Liar (published 1991) is Stephen Fry's first novel. The book relates the life of Adrian Healey, a public school and Oxbridge educated man who excels at lying and, along with other characters, forming an old boy's club, partakes in a makebelieve espionage game solely to avert boredom.
Book structure 
This book takes the reader from the protagonist’s public school days to his life as an adult: Adrian Healey is "the liar" spoken of in the title. The early chapters are not in strict chronological order, but are interlaced stories from three periods of the protagonist's life, namely, as a public school pupil, as a Cambridge student and as a "spy".
The espionage period differs from the other two in that initially it is written in italics and precedes chapters 1 to 8,[n 1] but not 9 to 14.[n 2] The sections in italics stop when the university narrative becomes the espionage narrative, upon Adrian's graduation. The characters are referred to by their clothes as the narrator appears objective (i.e. a spectator), but is actually omniscient, e.g. David Pearce's annoyance at Dickon Lister's ignorance of the story of Helen of Troy — starting with chapter 4, in keeping with spy games, the characters refer to each other by code names (a "tradecraft" as Adrian later calls it), in this case, the names are from the Trojan War.
Plot summary 
||This section may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (May 2012)|
|This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. (May 2012)|
The narrative then shifts to Adrian's time at public school, where he has carefully groomed himself to convey the image of a witty, highly extroverted gay young man; however, despite his image, and, despite regarding sex as his "public pride",[n 3] he finds himself unable to express his love for the beautiful Hugo Cartwright. Another student, Paul Trotter (known as "Pigs Trotter"[Sic.]), who is unrequitedly in love with Adrian,hangs himself. Adrian is shown later in the novel to be touchy on the subject of suicide as a result. Prior to Trotter's funeral, Adrian has a sexual encounter with Hugo while pretending to be asleep.
Adrian is later expelled from school for writing an article discussing the tradition of hidden behaviours at mixed sex public schools that could be considered homosexual; consequently, he takes his A-level examinations in a Gloucestershire state school. Adrian claims to have run away from home due to unhappiness, subsequently becoming a rent boy, but it is later revealed, in an overheard conversation, that this never occurred.
Eventually, Adrian takes on the role of schoolmaster and has his first sexual encounter with a woman, a fellow member of staff at the school. The school years finish with Adrian's cricket team defeating the team of Hugo Cartwright, to whom Adrian no longer feels attracted. Just as Adrian and his victorious team is about to leave the school at which Hugo is a master he reveals to Hugo that he was, in fact, awake during the incident before Trotter's funeral.
Adrian attends the fictional St. Matthew's College, Cambridge and is given a challenge to produce something original by his tutor Professor Donald Trefusis. With the aid of his girlfriend — and later wife and acclaimed producer — Jenny de Woolf, and his housemate Garry he writes and claims to have discovered a lost manuscript by Charles Dickens which dealt with the child sex trade. The discovery brings Jenny and the college fame, but it also results in a dialogue between Adrian and Hugo, who has become an alcoholic. Hugo believes that Adrian hates him, and points to Adrian's duplicity as proof. Adrian corrects him and the two leave things on a friendly note.
After graduation, Adrian attends a farcical meeting where he and other attendees discuss the arrest of Trefusis, who was arrested on charges of cottaging, sabotaging the footage of an onlooking BBC film crew. It is later revealed that he was actually undertaking a document exchange preceded by two kisses on the cheeks as is custom in several European countries, such as Hungary.
Adrian joins Trefusis in his forced sabbatical, which they claim to spend studying the fricative shift in English. In actuality, the year is spent in a game of espionage in which they must acquire the parts for Mendax (from the Latin adjective meaning "lying, deceptive"), a lie inhibiting device from his Hungarian friend Szabó.
A showdown results with Adrian's uncle David (Sir David Pearce of MI5) and Trefusis, during which it is revealed that Pearce's aide was a double agent working for Trefusis. It is also revealed that the murders that Adrian witnessed were staged in order to scare Trefusis into giving Mendax to MI5, and that Mendax was fictional.
Subsequently Adrian overhears a conversation between Trefusis and Pearce where it is revealed that several parts of the story were not true and that the espionage adventure was just a game to counter boredom. Jenny had written to Adrian saying that while young girls grew up, young boys did not, making their education irrelevant and just a game.
The book concludes as Adrian, now a Cambridge fellow, recruiting a new spy for a new game.
Note on code names 
The characters David Pearce and Dickon Lister refer to other characters by code names:
- Adrian is "Telemachus", the name of the son of Odysseus in the Odyssey
- Professor Donald Trefusis is "Odysseus"
- Istvan Moltaj is "Patrochlus" (Sic. In Greek Πάτροκλος, not Πάτροχλος)
- Szabó is "Helen", the catalyst of the Trojan war
- His nephews are "Castor" and "Pollux"
- Salzburg is the "walls of Illium"
The book is noted[weasel words] for its wit and humour, as well as its often outrageous references to various homosexual experiences. The book also has an unreliable narrator: Adrian is 'the liar' and lies habitually to other characters; accordingly, in the book, whole chapters are later revealed to be fictitious, though the reader has no prior warning. This manner of sudden revelation occurs at various points throughout the book, placing respectable characters in scandalous situations and juxtaposing humour and triviality with darker themes.
The author is renowned for his interest in the English language (see Fry's Planet Word). In a post on his blog, Fry talks about the evolving language, including his interest in "verbing" nouns (nouns used as verbs). He also reproaches grammar pedants. In the book there are several experiments with the English language, mostly used in the dialogue. These range from several nouns used as verbs (e.g. "You everything me" or "you sir me"), Americanisms (e.g. "burglarised") to the omission of the Oxford comma (e.g. "Tom and Adrian and Pigs Trotter"[n 4]). In the book, at school, Adrian actively tries new vocabulary.[n 5] As a spy he is told off by Trefusis for saying "it is them" instead of "it is they" (a result of a peculiarity of the verb "to be"), and complains to Trefusis about the habit of another (less erudite) character who overused the suffix "-ise".[n 6]
Autobiographical elements 
The novel is semi-autobiographical and many scenes echo experiences later recounted in Fry's memoir, Moab is My Washpot. The character Trefusis was created by Fry for a number of humourous radio broadcasts on BBC Radio 4's Loose Ends.
Dundee University 
References to pages of the book 
- Espionage narrative before chapter 1: pages 1–6; chapter 2: pages 44–45; chapter 3: pages 90–91; chapter 4: pages 129–132; chapter 5: pages 169–171; chapter 6: pages 185–187; chapter 7: pages 202–203; chapter 8: pages 218–221
- Chapter 9 starts at page 241, without an section in italics
- Page 18
- Page 37
- Page 37
- page 219: "God knows what new linguistic macé-doine he's going to serve up next"
- "Stephen Fry to appear in own 'Liar' film". Digital Spy. 22 May 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
- Fry, Stephen. "Don’t Mind Your Language...", stephenfry.com, 4 November 2008. Retrieved on 25 May 2013.
- Kakutani, Michiko. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES - A Rebellious Young Weed, and How He Grew", The New York Times, 11 June 1999. Retrieved on 25 May 2013.