Sascha Arango’s upcoming The Truth and Other Lies is one of those books where the description did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me want to read the book. A meandering examination of an unenthusiastic criminal mind, The Truth and Other Lies was ultimately a disappointment. There were so many elements that had tremendous potential but fell steamroller-flat for me.
Henry Hayden is an international best-selling author with more than just a closet full of secrets, the first of which is that he didn’t write a word of the novels he’s published as his own – those were entirely the work of his wife, Martha. Her support of their arrangement is put in danger when Henry’s mistress (“his” editor), Betty, turns up pregnant and pushes him to come clean with Martha and leave her once and for all. But when Henry attempts to solve his Betty problem one his own, a series of events begins unfolding that forces him to follow the self-preservation instincts that grew out of his dark past.
It’s probably the characters – and the female characters in particular – that I found most disappointing. Martha, having agreed to the arrangement in which Henry claims credit for her writing, could have been the most interesting character in the novel but there are only a handful of scenes in which she even appears. She becomes the first on the long list of missed opportunities that I wound up mentally tallying as I read. There is quite a bit of annoying misogyny in the text that can be written off as part of certain characters’ way of thinking (though it doesn’t make it any less annoying and the rampant under-characterization for everyone in the book suggests I might be too generous in my assessment). What can’t be written off is the underuse of female characters. Beyond Martha’s wasted potential, Betty and the few other female characters are largely passive caricatures. When Betty starts to take control of her life, to take action it is abruptly cut off before she can do anything significant to the plot; her main contributions are purely happenstance in the larger context of the plot.
Stylistically, I found much to be desired in the prose. Some of this might be due to the fact that it is a translation. The novel was originally published last year in Germany. There’s a lack of clarity that could be intentional, an attempt at further blurring the lines between Henry’s truth and the increasingly intricate web of lies he weaves. If it was a stylistic choice, it failed as far as I’m concerned. It proved to be another obstacle that made it harder for me to get invested in the story.
Aside from the lack of Martha, the biggest missed opportunity is probably just the background development of… everything. Fasch’s storyline almost feels like an afterthought, a forced red herring. Obradin sometimes feels like he was rewritten part way through. The plot is probably the story’s greatest strength but even that has its inconsistencies and weaknesses (the timeline of events is hazy at best and contradictory at worst). Though it is intended to be some sort of thriller, I found very little about The Truth and Other Lies to be more than an exercise in patience.
The Truth and Other Lies will be available on June 23, 2015.