There is a barber showing photographs and a banker in a motorcar in Deborah Levy’s new novel, and this may remind you of a popular tune. Penny Lane was in my ears and in my eyes as I read this short, yet complex story sprinkled with Beatles references by this British novelist, playwright and poet.
The Man Who Saw Everything is about perception, who we are and how others see us. Levy’s main character, Saul blurs reality as he sees himself and others through the lens of opinion and self-centeredness.
In the late 1980s, 28 year old Saul is heading to East Berlin to study alternatives to fascism. His girlfriend, Jennifer, is a photographer, and he is her muse. Her art is an expression of Saul and how he looks to her. (In contrast, she has forbidden him from describing what she looks like to him in words.) Jennifer has agreed to take a picture of Saul crossing Abby Road to give as a gift to his translator’s sister, a huge Beatles fan. As he is crossing the iconic street he is hit by a car and suffers only minor injuries. Before he departs for Germany, Saul asks Jennifer to marry him, and she rejects him. He then journeys to East Berlin where he falls in love with his translator, Walter, has an affair with Walter’s sister, Luna, and returns to England alone.
Now it is 2016 and Saul crosses Abby Road once again, and again, is hit by a car. Injuries are substantial this time and he goes to the hospital where he struggles to stay conscious. Here, with dreams and visions, we learn more about Saul’s life and all the years between his trip to Germany and the present.
This, at times disorienting story is mixed with fragmented memories of history through Saul’s eyes – beauty, envy, sorrow, loss and narcissism. Saul’s searches for his own identity through sexuality and he experiences family discord and failed relationships. It is fascinating to see his feelings change at a more mature age and when history is relived in his mind.
Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, is a complex novel with repeat themes, a connection to the lyrics of the Beatles’ Penny Lane, sunflowers and roses, mirrors, jaguars and more. This book would be great for book club discussion, as the narrative switches from past to present with many dreams and memories where nothing is seen clearly. I recommend this for those who want to take on the challenge!
About the Author:
Deborah Levy trained at Dartington College of Arts leaving in 1981 to write a number of plays, highly acclaimed for their “intellectual rigour, poetic fantasy and visual imagination”, including PAX, HERESIES for the Royal Shakespeare Company, CLAM, CALL BLUE JANE, SHINY NYLON, HONEY BABY MIDDLE ENGLAND, PUSHING THE PRINCE INTO DENMARK and MACBETH-FALSE MEMORIES, some of which are published in LEVY: PLAYS 1 (Methuen)
Deborah wrote and published her first novel BEAUTIFUL MUTANTS (Vintage), when she was 27 years old. The experience of not having to give her words to a director, actors and designer to interpret, was so exhilarating, she wrote a few more. These include, SWALLOWING GEOGRAPHY, THE UNLOVED (Vintage) and BILLY and GIRL (Bloomsbury). She has always written across a number of art forms (see Bookworks and Collaborations with visual artists) and was Fellow in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1989-1991.