The Impostor by Javier Cercas and Frank Wynne (translator)

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The Impostor by Javier Cercas and Frank Wynne (translator)

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Matthew Wilson
Reviewed by Matthew Wilson
Summary: The spellbinding story of Spain's most infamous liar. One of the best novels of this decade.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: November 2017
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-0857056504

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Enric Marco is without doubt an extraordinary man. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, honoured for his bravery on the battlefield. A political prisoner of two fascist regimes. A survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. A prominent figure in the clandestine resistance against Franco's tyranny. A tireless warrior for social justice and the defence of human rights. A national hero. But the most extraordinary thing about Enric Marco is this: that he is really none of these things. He is an impostor. And Javier Cercas sets out to tell his story – the true story of Spain's most notorious liar.

The Impostor is an utterly spellbinding read, at least in part because of its irresistible protagonist: Enric Marco is horrifying, devilishly charming, criminally narcissistic, heroic and villainous all at the same time. After his first meeting with Marco, Cercas admits to being gobsmacked by his arrogance and total lack of remorse: the only thing he can think to say is that Marco is 'A monster. A complete monster!' And, as the novel progresses and steadily untangles all of the appalling lies that Marco has weaved into his life, we never forget that Cercas's initial impression was correct – Marco is a monster. But notwithstanding this (and no matter how hard we resist), we still can't help but fall under Marco's spell. I defy any reader of this book not to fall absolutely in love with this affable and eccentric Spaniard. Marco is like a strange kind of Marmite: you don't love him or hate him; instead, you end up adoring him and detesting him simultaneously.

But what truly makes this novel sparkle is Cercas's masterful storytelling. A tremendous amount of research has gone into this book (hundreds of hours spent interviewing Marco and his entourage, not to mention months spent trawling through libraries, public records and Marco's own collection of writings) and the work really shows. Cercas is able to bring Marco to life in glorious detail. Not only does the author take us on a labyrinthine journey through the outrageous lies that have shored up Marco's existence, but he then unpicks these same lies and reveals a true story beneath that is frequently even more colourful and captivating than the embellished tales Marco tells about himself. Reading this book is an utterly dizzying experience as we are thrust back and forth between lies and truths, half-truths and fibs, fact and fiction.

The masterstroke of this novel, however, is that the author has decided to include himself in the book. This is not just a quirky biography of Enric Marco, it is also the story of how that biography came to be written. We follow Cercas all the way on his journey to uncover the truth, participating in his interviews with Marco and others, joining him in the libraries and public records facilities, observing as his research unfolds and the book gradually comes to be written. It is a kind of storytelling I've never come across before, and it is fascinating. What emerges is a novel that is refreshingly self-conscious, immersing us in the novelist's own anxieties – chief of which being, whether it is right for him to write this book in the first place? As Cercas recognises, Marco is 'a manipulative, obsequious, utterly unscrupulous parasite who wanted to use me to whitewash his lies and his misdeeds'. Is it immoral for him to give Marco the attention he so desperately craves and thereby fuel the narcissism of a shameless liar?

At one point in the novel, Cercas goes so far as to ask himself, '[Am] I prepared to damn myself in exchange for writing a masterpiece…?' Whether Cercas has damned himself in the process of writing this book is a question for someone else, but one thing's for certain: damned or not, he has produced a true masterpiece.

If you enjoy The Impostor and want to learn more about some of the periods of Spanish history described in the book, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell is well worth a read. Also maybe try Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown, although it's heavier going.

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Buy The Impostor by Javier Cercas and Frank Wynne (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Impostor by Javier Cercas and Frank Wynne (translator) at


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