Booker Prize Longlist 2019
Saul Adler is hit by a car. From that moment on Levy plays with certainties. Saul apparently continues his life, merely suffering from an injured hip. Levy however continually hints that things are not what they appear to be. Then he is hit again, at the same spot. Or is this the only accident?
Levy uses a trick to have us doubt truth. And whether things occur als linearly as the reader might think. The accident occurring a second time makes the reader view the previous pages in a different light.
Not a lot happens in The man. Saul is hit by a car, his girlfriend ends their relationship, he leaves for East-Berlin as planned. In 1988, a few weeks before the wall falls. He falls in love with his guide / translator Walter and brings him and his younger sister in trouble by underestimating the power of the Stasi and the urgent desire to flee the country. Back in England he continues his life. Only when the accident occurs a second time in June 2016 Levy starts revealing what actually happened between 1988 en 2016. Saul is dying, he is confused, muddled. He mixes up people, times and events.
The important people in Saul’s life are at his hospital bed. His view on them turns out to be personal and not exactly correct. His father is not the tyrant Saul has made him out to be, his brother is actually quite all right, Saul might have blown up being the outsider in the family. Jennifer appears to have had the right reasons to end the relationship. Sauls’s humanity, his difficulty in relating to people come to the light. He turns out to be rather selfish, focussed on his own interests. His beautiful appearance does not correspond to his interior. He is just a man.
I preferred the second part of the novel to the first one. Based on the second part I now know Saul could predict events during his stay in Berlin whilst thinking back on it dying. Reading the first part without this knowledge a slight touch of magical realism is hinted at, which to me feels too much as a writers trick. I for one was glad Levy decided to trust on her talent to write and reveal the truth step by step.
Nice detail: Jennifer, a photographer, replicates the Abbey Road cover with Saul in the white John Lennon suit. The picture is meant for Walter’s sister, a great Beatles fan. Saul is hit on the zebra crossing of the cover. Another hint for the reader?
I kept my distance while reading the first part. For one because of the slight touch of magical realisme but also for the main characters remaining clichés. In the second part of the novel I felt myself being drawn into it. Levy manages to tide over what you see is what you get and the truth behind it. At that moment I could also acknowledge her talent for writing. She no longer needed tricks to convince me, her writing and her beautiful descriptions of people and events sufficed.