Review Blog

Jun 29 2012

The greatest liar on earth by Mark Greenwood

cover image

Ill. by Frane Lessac. Walker Books, 2012. ISBN 9781 921529 85 6.
(Ages: 8+) Recommended. Humour. Fable.
This extraordinary story is expounded on the pages by Greenwood and Lessac in a brilliant retelling of the life of Louis de Rougemont and is wonderfully illustrated with fantastical drawings of his adventures and presentations on the stage.
Greenwood came across this tale of a media celebrity who made his name in London, telling the most amazing tales of the adventures of his life to packed theatres in mid Victorian times. He became a celebrity, people flocked to his performances, a wax likeness was made and displayed at Madame Tussauds, he met Queen Victoria but was questioned by members of the Royal Geographical Society. When some journalists investigated his life they found him to be Henri Grin, a man who had been butler to the Governor of Western Australia in 1875, and who may have heard many stories from the southern lands, but many were said to be untrue. Despite then calling himself the 'greatest liar on earth', he was jeered and heckled off the stage. So he fell from the celebrity status he once held, fading back to the darkness of where he came from, dying a pauper and buried in London.
Lessac's wonderful illustrations show the man and his stories in bold, colourful gouache, and represent him participating in the adventures he talked about: seeing a giant squid, being wrecked on a coral reef, being marooned on an island with the bones of other shipwrecked sailors, riding a giant turtle, wrestling a crocodile, almost eaten by cannibals and finding gold.
The story underlines the momentary status of celebrity, their names on everyone's lips for a while, then fading as more truth is brought to light.The book also reflects the willingness of people to believe the stories they are told, adoring the person about whom the stories are said, but then dismissing them out of hand. The fickleness of the crowd is shown clearly in the last few pages where the sparse audiences jeer the man who recently was adulated.
Fran Knight

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