Monday, July 30, 2012

The Good Liar by Gregory Maguire

The Good Liar begins in the present when three young girls are studying World War II in school and their assignment is to speak to someone who had lived through it.  They see an artist, Marcel Delarue, interviewed on TV and write him to ask if he would answer their questions since he lived through the war in France, only a child of 8 when Paris fell to the Nazis in 1940.  Marcel very graciously responds to their request, and begins writing a series of vignettes resembling the landscapes he paints.

Marcel, and his older brothers Pierre and René, lived in a small village with only their mother, their papa is away working.  The boys are really rambunctious and considered themselves to be quite good liars.  Lying was a contest with them to see who could come up with the best liar in a give situation.  They would lie to anyone about anything, sometimes doing it just for the sake of lying.

The war still feels very far from their small village of Mont-Saint-Martin when they receive a letter from Uncle Anton in Paris saying that the German soldiers are on their way and that he and friends might be need to stay with them awhile.  But in fact German soldiers show up in their village before Uncle Anton, two coming to the Delarue's door one day asking for help.  But the boy's mother is home and they lie and say she is in Chinon, taking caring of her mother.

By now, France had fallen and the north was occupied by German, even in Mont-Saint-Martin, but life went on as usual, except that there was never enough to eat unless you were a German soldier.  And finally in September 1941, Uncle Anton arrived along with his friend Madame Cauverian and her daughter Miriam.  Mother and daughter were Jews and life in France was not long safe for them, so the plan was to stay a week with the Delarues and then escape from France over Pyrénées into Spain and safety.  But Miriam became ill and the stay was prolonged.  Meanwhile, the boys beloved dog, Mirabeau went missing.

One morning, Marcel and René are sent one a mission to get some honey from an old farmer.  The trip on foot was long and when they got there, the farmer kept them all day long, so that by the time they returned home they discovered that the guests were gone, rounded up with the other village Jews to be interned.  Marcel and René were both angry that only Pierre has been home to say goodbye.  And sometime during that winter of 1941/42, Pierre stopped lying.

Since Pierre was no longer a playmate, that summer Marcel and René found themselves spending their days fishing and swimming in the company of one of the German soldiers who had come to the door.  Basically, just a young boy himself, the German taught them not just how to cast their fishing lines but provided lunch as well.  All was idyllic until Marcel fell out of a tree, injuring himself and the German took him home, running all the way.

It was then that the reason for the change in Pierre became apparent.  And it becomes clear why their otherwise careful, quiet mother had verbally attacked some German soldiers after the Jews in the village had been rounded up.  And it becomes evident who the best liar among the Delarues turns out to be.

And it is not who you would ever expect.

I read The Good Liar in one sitting because I could put it down.  It is a wonderful multi-layered middle grade book, ideal for introducing young readers to the events of World War II.  The characters are well-rounded and in many ways unique.  Marcel is quite artistic and gives the reader a most picturesque impression of the war and though he doesn't leave out the hunger, the cold, the danger and the round ups of Jews, each vignette carries an almost halcyon feeling, just like the pictures he painted of trees and bridges in his painting.  I kept wondering why he was doing this, until I got to the end.

Ironically, in the end, though, this small novel is a book about master liars is a book about truth.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL

You can find a very nice teaching guide for The Good Liar here.


  1. I haven't heard of this one but I like the sound of it. Thanks Alex.

    1. This one was a real surprise for me, too. I just found it on the library shelf when I was looking for something else and decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did.

  2. Great review. I still resent my good upbringing and social norms which prevented me from learning how to lie properly (and subjected me to a lifetime of difficulties, LOL).

    1. Thanks, Zohar. I know what you mean about not being about to lie properly, sometimes just a little white lie might help some situations.