Therefore, he speaks the truth

Billy Liar

Billy Liar is a fantasist. Trapped in the gauche, garish town of Stradhoughton and longing for escape to London, he invents a cast of characters and an alternative universe or two that gradually turn from comic to tragicomic. Billy is the narrator of his week-long trip, culminating---so he hopes---in a move to London to start writing comedy for Danny Boon, instead of shifting coffins for Shadrack and Duxbury. The real world encroaches on his every dream and fantasy, leaching them of colour, and Billy must fight for the rights to his delusional inner life.

Billy Liar is also a nightmare to review. Iconic, over-analysed, a set text on many a syllabus... people who bought this item also bought A Kestrel for a Knave and Of Mice and Men. Cultural commentator Malcolm Bracewell raves over it in England is Mine. It sits at a turning-point in 20th century culture, post-war, where the cities have suddenly begun to encroach on the towns. Not geographically, yet, but news and disaffected youth have brought the giddy buzz of London too close to Stradhoughton for comfort. The metropolitan and the provincial chafe together, and Billy's frantic merrygoround life is fired up by the violence of this collision. Regional accents, and the words spoken in them, have begun to lose their sense to the new generation. Connections, Billy realizes, are being unmade as much as they are being made.

Billy Liar's every step is dogged and sometimes revoked entirely by what he sees as threats to the way of life he wants to pursue. Shadrack, in Billy's estimation too small a man to keep him captive, tightens his grip all the same. The promotional calendars, never posted, Billy pushes around the countryside like Sysiphus' rock. And his childlike, innocent revelations to Liz are encroached upon by the smallness of Stamp and his idiot friends. These experiences make no sense as an aspirational journey; instead we should read it as a demonstration of the indefatigability of the human spirit, the meagre but dependable protection that his learning gives him throughout all of his trials. He's also thoughtful, compassionate---the final scenes with his grandmother and mother are heart-rending---and, in the final analysis, very funny indeed. That is, if there ever were a final analysis of Billy Liar.