Allen, Richard James. More Lies. Interactive Publications, 2021. RRP: $26.00, 66pp, 9781922332646.
More Lies, by Richard James Allen, is a bawdy romp through an unreliable narrator’s consciousness. The reader is never quite sure where they stand as they read—or if they stand at all. In this way, Allen deconstructs the bones of his story, calling into question the roles of the protagonist and the reader. The nature of outside characters—their relation to the narrator and the very identity of the protagonist themselves—seem to be as substantial as a mist on a lake.
It’s not an easy feat to write in the voice of a character who is either wilfully deceptive or seems to be losing their mind. Allen does so with skill and commitment, with convincing results. The narrative, what there is of it, is patched together with a series of half-truths and semi-confessions, with many phrases such as ‘Oh, we won’t go into that’ (28) which tease the reader with withheld information. This establishes a hierarchy with the protagonist at the top as the keeper of knowledge who is none too keen to share it with the reader.
More Lies is not easy to read: the reader must work to find meaning, and even as they work they may still remain mystified. What does it all mean? Maybe the protagonist or the writer is having a private joke? The reader wonders if they have missed something, wonders if they are simply stupid for not having found the key to unlock the story. The narrator insists, ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake! I told you, didn’t I?’ But apparently the reader ‘forgot the fuck about it’ (57). Whatever ‘it’ was. Another clue, towards the end of the book, states:
Are they coming back to you now? All those old wives’ tales? All those oddly truncated, always-changing gears, family stories told to you sideways, like sliding a loose clutch through endless neutral in a rusty pickup truck? (55)
I use the above quote because it displays how the book narrates its subject matter. Although it could easily be devoured in one afternoon, More Lies is a challenging read that risks being unsatisfying due to the nature of its structure and style. However, it is worth persisting with because of its sheer originality. At once taking on the persona of prose, and then at another time devolving down into a playful stream-of-consciousness, it seems, just like any liar worth their salt, always one step ahead of the reader.
It’s hard to discuss More Lies without running headlong into spoilers. There are many twists and turns throughout the book, the veracity of which may be questioned at times. But let’s not fall into the trap of not seeing the forest for the trees. The lies are part of a larger fabric which could be seen as commenting on contemporary society: in a time of rapid consumption and social media, how can we ever be sure that what we are welcoming into our consciousness is truth, rather than slanted opinion? And, if a protagonist is at the helm, how do we know we can trust them? What’s more, we are all the protagonists in our own daily life—can we even trust ourselves to be truthful? We may think we are a kind, honest person, but how often do we lie to ourselves? These are the sorts of important questions that Allen raises in More Lies, beautifully obliquely, without hammering home the point.
There is a prying in the act of reading that Allen highlights through his protagonist: ‘You keep eavesdropping on my thoughts and there is very little I can do about it, except hand out disinformation, which, luckily, I am very good at’ (45). In this and other similar statements which are directed squarely at the reader, Allen breaks the fourth wall and invokes the reader as a character in the story—one with another potentially addled perception of the storyline.
A theme in More Lies is the nature of being a writer. The protagonist is often writing at gunpoint, at least according to their version of events—but this glorified narrator is not immune to losing the thread of a story, even as the reader gives them space to speak through the words on the page. Thoughts turn to what legacy is left after the writer’s death, and to questions like ‘Will my work live on?’
This voice that was spared from death must now surrender to it. Whatever remains of our truths, lies, stories, and secrets will never be known, or, if glimpsed at once, will now be lost forever. (55)
If ‘whatever remains […] will now be lost forever’, perhaps the only way of keeping a story alive is to tell it, however fractured and difficult to receive it may be. Hence the protagonist’s annoyance when the reader has forgotten some crucial part of the story arc. More Lies is literary fiction with a capital ‘L’; it makes you think, suspect, and think once more. I must again underline the sheer skill necessary to fabricate a story such as it. If you like having your brain stretched, I recommend this book with much enthusiasm.
Gemma White is a poet living in Melbourne/Naarm, Australia. She has had two poetry collections published by Interactive Press; Furniture is Disappearing and Oh My Rapture. She shares her knowledge of poetry at www.gemmawhite.com.au, where she offers a free 5-day email poetry course.