Is it possible to tell “the truth about lying” or is this phrase an oxymoron? And how do we differentiate between “the” truth and an accepted truth? Though at first glance a simple remark, the title of Benedict Wells’ new book “The Truth about Lying” unpacks the underlying complexity of this question, stimulating new thoughts and perspectives. The title already is a piece of literature. And just like the it, the whole book uses seemingly simple form to prompt complex thinking, using 10 short narratives to effectively capture depth in a simple remark or moment.
The outrageously young German-Swiss writer Benedikt Wells (*1984) describes his new book as “a playground for in-between”, a short and fast piece of work between his widely known novel “The End of Loneliness” (the Italian title is La fine della solitudine) and his forthcoming novel. It is a playground that allows this rising star of German literature to experiment with style, to show his wide range of writing ability as well as to publish ideas that he developed years ago (Ping pong was written 8 years ago) or that he couldn’t integrate into his famous novel “The end of loneliness” (“Die Nacht der Bücher”/ The night of the books and “Die Entstehung der Angst”/ The origin of fear). Nevertheless, the ten stories are also a playground for the reader – easy to read and enjoyable – they are deeply thought through and operate as allegories for more complex subjects. Two (of the) stories (describing the difficulty within family relationships) about missed moments and family relations are the frame for the other stories: the first piece “Die Wanderung” (The hike) condenses a whole life and its missed chances into one hiking tour. The meaning comes to fruition in the very end, leaving the reader surprised and melancholically thinking about moments in life that have passed unnoticed and are irreplaceable. What’s more, the last piece “Hundertausend” (One hundred thousand) condenses a big topic – the tragedy of miscommunication and unspoken feelings in a father-son-relationship – into one single moment – reaching 100,000 KM on the millage reading of a car. Just as the first story lets a whole life pass within one hike, the last story gives the chance of re-establishing a relationship pass within 1 km.
Framed by these two stories, the main piece “The Frenchise – die Wahrheit über das Lügen” (The frenchise – the truth about lying) – which is giving the book its title – is at the heart of Wells’ work. This short story is a fantasy about a time travel. The rich and famous producer Adrian Brooks tells its life-story to a young journalist: it was not him but George Lucas that invented “Star Wars”, but because Brooks travelled in time from 2016 into the year 1973, he was able to steal Lucas’ idea – or rather come up with the Lucas idea before Lucas himself did. At the end, it is not quite obvious for the young journalist if this is just another great story for a film, or if it is the truth. The line between fact and fiction seems to blur and the reader is left wondering – is possible to see the truth in a lie? There are also two short stories that stem from his last novel The end of loneliness – “Die Nacht der Bücher”/ The night of the books and “Die Entstehung der Angst” / The origin of fear. Furthermore, Wells integrates two classical short stories into the well orchestrated work: one named “Die Fliege”/ The Fly, in which a women ends a marriage after she sees her husband’s behaviour towards her reflected in his unsympathetic treatment of a drowning fly, and the other named “die Muse” / The Muse, an allegory of the trade-offs of being an artist. The only two narratives that lack a bit of depth are “Richard” and “Ping Pong” but overall, the stories are cleverly composed, full of allusions and entertaining, yet (not loosing sight on the importance of the main subject) serious at the same time. Written simply and elegantly, the stories drag the readers inside them, letting all of us to see and feel through the eyes and heart of the characters. And then, unexpectedly, they kick you out, letting the readers focus on the feelings, emotions and thoughts that stick with you long after you have finished reading. The book makes you want to read the stories immediately again – because maybe, you missed a layer, because maybe, you might just discover the depth of your feelings.
So far, the “The truth about lying” has just been published in German. But one can only hope that it will soon be translated into other languages – so Germans and non-Germans alike can have the chance of enjoying this well written piece of literature.