The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
Deborah Levy's latest novel creates a rich, textured and multi-layered world that focuses on the damage done by our historical irresponsibility
It’s 1988 and Saul Adler, a young historian, has just been hit by a car while crossing Abbey Road. So begins Deborah Levy’s seventh, Booker-nominated novel The Man Who Saw Everything, a book that is delicate in its craft and colossal in its themes.
Unscathed from the collision, Saul stumbles to his girlfriend’s flat, where she breaks up with him. Licking his wounds, he decides to head to East Germany on a research trip where he’ll fall in love with his translator Walter Müller while also having an affair with Walter’s sister. The next time we see Saul, it’s 2016 and he has just been hit by a car while crossing Abbey Road. This second accident is more serious and Saul is hospitalised, slipping in and out of consciousness, his memories and fantasies overlapping. Something – could it be a spectre? – is haunting Saul.
History, both the collective and the individual, is at the heart of Levy’s novel as it deconstructs (to Saul and the reader) what we perceive as stable narratives, asking what happens to us when these narratives can no longer hold. There’s almost a cruelty to this process as Saul’s world crumbles around him, every and nothing revealed to our bewildered protagonist. Carelessness is the book’s central theme as Levy asks what our historical inability to take responsibility has done.
But for all its seriousness, The Man Who Saw Everything is also a deeply humourous book, bearing comparisons to a modern Thomas Pynchon novel. Levy has built a rich, textured world where narratives wrap around each other like an onion’s layers and recurring motifs are winks to the reader. It’s only at the end of the book when the puzzle pieces finally slip into place, that we can suddenly see everything clearly. Or so we think.
Out now via Hamish Hamilton, £14.99