Book Review: The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

The Man Who Say Everything – Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton, 2019)

It’s hard to know how to talk about this book. Divided into two parts, there is a sort of reveal halfway through and that becomes clearer as the book progresses to the end that makes it clear what this book is about and what sort of book it is. And without given away that reveal, which is the major conceit of the novel, it’s hard to know what to say.

I read The Man Who Saw Everything after reading Emily’s review and I’m glad I did because the first half of the novel didn’t much grab me. Having read her review however, I knew I should keep going and thus was ultimately rewarded. The book begins in 1988 when Saul Adler is struck by a car while crossing Abbey Road. A few days later he leaves for a short stint working in East Berlin. His girlfriend, a photographer, has just broken up with him. Saul is an academic, the first in his working class family to attend university, but describes himself as having rockstar looks. Indeed, he appear’s to be his girlfriend Jennifer’s primary muse and focus in her work. Thus he enters East Berlin in a bruised and battered state, both physically and emotionally.

On the other side of the wall he befriends his German translator, Walter Muller, and Walter’s sister, Luna. Very quickly these relationships become complicated. I don’t want to say much more. This first section is mostly straightforward though there are references to things being not quite what they seem and I was definitely suspicious of Saul’s reliability as narrator.

The second half casts an entirely new light on the first half and expands on Saul’s world and experience. It’s a very interesting exercise in memory and thought and relationships. The book is short and easy to read, well-written and thoughtful. Although it isn’t a deep dive into the history of Soviet culture, I think it would also be of interest to readers more familiar with the divided Berlin than I am. I recommend reading it but also warn the reader, Be patient!

14 thoughts on “Book Review: The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy”

  1. I’ve deliberately avoided finding out too much about this one, as I’ve seen a few reviews that mention the crucial reveal that changes your perception of the book as a whole. I’m very intrigued to give it a shot and see how I get on with it!

    1. Yes, I think the less you know the better with this one! There are definitely some hints in the first section but it’s also the type of book you want to go back and re-read once you see the bigger picture.

    1. It’s not quite as mind-blowing as that that twist (or at least not as mind-blowing as that was to me at 14!) The car accident is important but I think this is a good one to go into without knowing too much.

    1. It’s quite a short novel so I think you could do it without it feeling too painful! I have to admit, wanting to know what the reveal is was the main reason I actually read it!

  2. Great review, and thanks for the link! 🙂 I’m so glad I could help convince you to pick this one up, and that you found it worthwhile in the end! This really was one of my all-time favorite twists, not even because it’s so shocking but because it all fits together SO WELL. I’ll be curious to see if this one makes the Women’s Prize longlist- I suspect the judges might go for heavier / more timely themes, but it’s an excellent piece of storytelling!

    1. It was definitely one of those twists that made me want to go back and re-read the first part of the book to figure it all out! I’ll be curious to see if it makes the longlist too; parts of it felt rather timely to me with Brexit but it also had a more vintage feeling given the focus on East Germany.

  3. This is a very helpful warning! Being the type of person I am (who hardly ever DNFs a book) I would probably stick around to discover the twist in the middle, but so many people would abandon it too early so it’s good you made that clear in your review. This is what us book bloggers are here for 🙂

  4. So glad you enjoyed this! I LOVED the first half as much as the second but understand that that’s a slightly unpopular opinion. I’m glad everyone seems to agree that it’s worth persevering, however!

    1. I didn’t hate the first half, mostly I felt Saul to be kind of annoying and you can tell that some info is being withheld from the reader. Levy was wise to keep this a short book but knowing that the second half revealed the first definitely made me read faster.

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