Book review: Liar by Ayelet Gunder-Goshen

This Israeli novelist tells the truth about lies, says Keren David


Liar by Ayelet Gunder-Goshen (Pushkin Press, £14.99) 

The title of Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s enormously enjoyable third novel suggests it’s about just one liar. But untruths abound from the very first page where a queue of people wait for an ATM and “A deaf-mute beggar stood beside them, hand extended, and they pretended to be blind.”

The beggar’s muteness is itself a lie, and when he uses his voice later in the book to tell the truth, he is, of course, not believed. This is a book about the many lies we tell ourselves and others, and rather than condemning liars outright, Gundar-Goshen is far more interested in the transgressive power that liars possess to fight inequality in an unjust world, and the perverse way in which lying can bring us love.

The liar of the title is Nofar, a teenage girl cursed with a prettier, younger sister. She is friendless, vulnerable and feels unloved. She has a summer job at a Tel Aviv ice-cream parlour, where she becomes the target for an unprovoked blast of toxic masculinity from the lips of Avner Milner, a washed up, Z-list celebrity, who is angry and frustrated because his career seems to be over.

Milner cruelly insults Nofar and she ends up accusing him of sexual assault. Gunder-Goshen skilfully leads readers to become complicit in her lie, enjoying the way in which she blossoms and grows as the media and nation take up her case.

Towards the end of the book, Nofar joins a group visit to Poland. Each such group has a Holocaust survivor with them, and theirs is called Rivka — but she is an imposter, Raymonde, who has taken the place of her dead friend, called Rivka. Raymonde, a Mizrachi Jew, has to google “Auschwitz” to play the part. Like Nofar, Raymonde glows in the attention she receives — “No one had ever showed her so much love.” And she mixes in among Rivka’s stories — and “stories that they put on TV on Holocaust Day instead of Big Brother” — her own memories from the transit camp, leaving Morocco as a child refugee, true stories no one had listened to before.

Nofar and Raymonde’s ultimate confrontation is the heart of the book. Each finds it easier to condemn the other than look at herself, though Nofar concludes that lying had “paid off so well for both of them.”

The truth will out — in a way — and justice is done. But in Gunder-Goshen’s Israel the lies go on, in peace and war: “People stood in the supermarket and said it was disgraceful how the army lied to us, if even the IDF lies, then really you can’t trust anyone.”

“Sometimes fiction is written in the ink of truth,” Nofar’s mother muses. This book rings true in every line.

Keren David is the JC’s features editor 

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