The Man Who Saw Everything
There is something maddeningly inscrutable about Saul Adler, the protagonist of Deborah Levy’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novel, The Man Who Saw Everything. Opening on Abbey Road, London, in 1988, an oblivious Saul is hit by a car. Largely unscathed, he gets up, goes to meet his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Jennifer, with whom he then has sex. Shortly after, she breaks up with him, and Saul, a historian with a particular interest in tyrannical personalities, flies to East Berlin, where he will conduct research and write a laudatory account of the GDR. There, Saul falls in love with Walter, his translator, whom he fails to realise is a Stasi agent charged with spying on him.
Like its protagonist, The Man Who Saw Everything is intricate and elliptical, even far-fetched. As readers, we think Levy is about to turn towards the shores of resolution, only we are then fastforwarded to Abbey Road in July 2016, where things become even more obscure. Saul is again hit by a car, only he doesn’t get up, but is instead taken to hospital with serious injuries. The rest of the novel is punctuated by Saul’s delirious flights, and the edifice Levy has built is for us fractured anew. Grapple as we might with the shards of an already complex plot, simple answers are not forthcoming.
Unabashadly literary and subtly reflective, The Man Who Saw Everything is a rich and uncompromising tapestry worthy of Levy’s reputation.
Words: Luke Warde