The Man Who Saw Everything

The Man Who Saw Everything

By Deborah Levy
208 pages
August 2019

Just published in paperback, this is the next book on my list since I have been indulging in detective novels for the past month or so. This is the effect a lockdown has on me! (Aude-the-bookseller)

Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize
An electrifying and audacious novel about beauty, envy, and carelessness by Deborah Levy, two-time Man Booker Prize finalist.

It is 1988 and Saul Adler, a narcissistic young historian, has been invited to Communist East Berlin to do research; in exchange, he must publish a favorable essay about the German Democratic Republic. As a gift for his translator's sister, a Beatles fanatic who will be his host, Saul's girlfriend will shoot a photograph of him standing in the crosswalk on Abbey Road, an homage to the famous album cover. As he waits for her to arrive, he is grazed by an oncoming car, which changes the trajectory of his life--and this story of good intentions and reckless actions.

The Man Who Saw Everything is about the difficulty of seeing ourselves and others clearly. It greets the specters that come back to haunt old and new love, previous and current incarnations of Europe, conscious and unconscious transgressions, and real and imagined betrayals, while investigating the cyclic nature of history and its reinvention by people in power. Here, Levy traverses the vast reaches of the human imagination while artfully blurring sexual and political binaries--feminine and masculine, East and West, past and present--to reveal the full spectrum of our world.


A Rubik's cube of a book . . . Ripe and rich . . . [Levy] is writing with gorgeous, juicy assurance here. It’s stylish: written with a speedy, vivid economy, her characters’ eccentricities leaping off the page. It’s funny: Saul’s narcissistic narration is full of deadpan details of youthful pretentiousness, social awkwardness. It’s sexy: Levy writes keenly about layered attraction and resentment, how her characters bestow and withdraw gifts of sex and affection. And it’s political: the novel exposes the hypocrisies that accompany rigid ideology, but also questions how an individual can live with integrity if they only live for themselves." The Independent

"[Levy] loves to yank at our wiring, our orienting premises and prejudices . . . Her prose is light-handed and leaves a pleasant sting . . . Her rich, obsessional body of work is consumed by questions of how scripts—of gender, nationality, identity—paper over how fundamentally, how painfully, unknowable we are to ourselves, and the catastrophes that this blindness sets in motion.” The New York Times

“The Man Who Saw Everything is a brilliantly constructed jigsaw puzzle of meaning that will leave readers wondering how much they can truly know.” The Washington Post 

“Extraordinary . . . Levy’s style is crisp, taut, even as she writes a dreamlike story.” The Toronto Star

“Electrifying . . . The novel explores both what we see and what we miss until the past and present are staring directly at us.” —The Sunday Times

“An eye-opening read . . . Against a backdrop in which surveillance and paranoia are rampant, Levy explores parallels between political and personal history, questions of trustworthiness, and the discrepancies between how we see ourselves and how we're seen by others . . . Levy's writing is playful, smart, and full of memorable lines.” —NPR

“[The Man Who Saw Everything] confirms Levy’s rare—and ever more relevant—vision. In one short and sly book after another, she writes about characters navigating swerves of history and sexuality, and the social and personal rootlessness that accompanies both . . . Levy’s most stylistically complex novel yet . . . Levy’s boldness, and her voice, are hard earned . . . Levy doesn’t whisper in her fiction, but in her slim, elliptical books, she unspools big odysseys.” —The Atlantic