“But first he sat down in his wing armchair and leafed through the Forensic Journal–an extraordinarily informative periodical about evil. Anyone planning a crime or in the process of committing one should read special literature. It provides information on the risks of discovery consequent upon developments in forensic technology. At the same time it makes clear the futility of battling against human evil, for no science or punishment can contend with the bloodthirstiness innate in us all. From a historicultural point of view, greed, vengefulness and stupidity are all natural causes of death, just one facet of the human condition.”
I’ve read a few books lately that sounded good but then, in one way or another, failed in the execution. And that brings me to The Truth and Other Lies from Sascha Arango–a book that sounded so good, I was sure I’d either be terribly disappointed or absolutely love it. There was never any doubt with this book–I loved it.
When the story opens, author Henry Hayden has the sort of life most of us would envy. He’s a world famous, immensely wealthy author with a string of bestsellers to his credit. He has a quiet, reclusive wife, Martha who adores him, he drives a Maserati, and he has a beautiful country estate near the coast. Yes, Henry leads a wonderful life. So let’s take a step back from first appearances. … Henry also has a mistress, well there have been innumerable affairs to be honest, all those adoring fans on the book promotion circuit. After all, what’s Henry to do when a grateful fan throws herself at him? Martha, a remarkably self-contained and intuitive woman knows that there are other women, but chooses to ignore any evidence that may come her way.
The book’s first pages find Henry in the throes of a crisis. His current mistress, gorgeous blonde Betty, his ambitious editor at Moreany Publishing House, has just handed him a picture of an ultrasound and announced that she’s pregnant. Henry finds himself in a dilemma when Betty asks him what they are going to do:
The right answer would have been: My love, this is not going to end well. But that kind of answer has consequences. It changes things or makes them disappear altogether. Regrets are of no more use then. And who wants to change anything that’s good and convenient?
“I’ll drive home and tell my wife everything.”
Henry saw the astonishment on Betty’s face; he was surprised himself. Why had he said that? Henry wasn’t given to exaggeration; it hadn’t been necessary to say he’d tell Martha everything.
So that’s the plan. He just has to break the news to Martha
Yes, he would be a great man. He would drive home and put truth in place of falsehood. Reveal everything at last, all the nasty details. Well maybe not quite all, but the essentials. It would mean cutting deep into healthy flesh. Tears would flow and it would hurt dreadfully, himself included. It would be the end of all trust and harmony between Martha and him–but it would also be an act of liberation. He would no longer be an unprincipled bastard, no longer have to be so ashamed of himself. It had to be done. Truth before beauty–the rest would sort itself out.
He put his arms around Betty’s slender waist. A stone was lying in the grass, big enough and heavy enough to inflict a lethal blow. He had only to bend down to pick it up.
You can see where the story is going, but there’s an added complication. Henry isn’t the author of that string of bestsellers. He’s just the front man for Martha. Henry, who was once a homeless drifter, met Martha on a one-night stand. After sex, he planned to steal from her and split, but he found one of her manuscripts, read it (“the story was not unlike his own,”), and sensed he’d found the golden goose. So here they are years later, a strange couple, and yet they’ve managed to map out a life together that is composed of very specific geography and terms on which they agree. The reclusive, former psychiatric patient Martha sees color auras around people and lives in another zone. Disinterested in fame and fortune, she writes at night, content to allow Henry (who spends his time building gigantic matchstick drilling rigs) to have all the fame and the glory as long as they maintain their contained, quiet private life together. So while Henry plans to break the news gently to Martha “in her hermetically sealed world,” in reality, it’s not so easy to do….
Lively, wicked and packed with dark, treacherous humour, The Truth and Other Lies is the story of a devious man who has the perfect life until he’s forced to choose between his wife and his mistress. Driven by pure self-interest devoid of any moral restraints, Henry makes an entertaining, nasty protagonist. He doesn’t hesitate to consider murder–but which woman should he kill? Martha, who can “read the X-Rays images” of Henry’s “guilty conscience” is boring but she does write those books, yet Betty, as equally a self-interested person as Henry, “deep down, she was as spoiled and unconscionable as he was,” won’t be shaken off lightly.
While the three main characters are enough to intrigue any reader, author Sascha Arango populates this novel with fascinating, troubled and equally intriguing secondary characters. There’s Claus Moreany, founder of the publishing house, a dying man whose last wish is to marry Betty. Claus is blissfully ignorant that his long-time secretary Honor Eisendraht nurses unrequited passion for her employer and hatred for Betty, a woman she sees as her usurper. Honor reads Tarot cards to assist her in her mission and nurtures a dragon tree for its promise of “grant[ing] unspoken wishes.” Hot on Henry’s tail to uncover his secret past and to exact revenge is Gisbert Fasch, and how does Obradin, the anti-social Serbian fishmonger, known for “berserk” rages which end with a tranquilizer gun come into the scheme of things?
Henry is a completely despicable character whose self-interested drive dominates–ameliorated in hilarious ways by moments of grand gestures that appear to be kindness but which in reality either cost him nothing or contribute in some devious way to the scheme of things. This is a wickedly nasty tale of deceit and murder with many twists and turns which include an unfinished manuscript that’s missing its final chapter.
While The Truth and Other Lies doesn’t quite hit the supreme pitch of biting nastiness achieved by either Henry Sutton’s Get Me Out of Here or Phil Hogan’s superbly smooth A Pleasure and a Calling, the book should appeal to those of us who crave this sort of book. After all, nasty, self-interested people are always great fun to read about. Distance and all that.
Translated by Imogen Taylor