Review: The Greatest Liar on Earth

From tramp to world explorer extraordinaire, with adventurous tales to boggle the mind and cause the eyes to pop wide like saucers? Is it possible? Who was this man? Swiss-born footman, butler and jack-of-all-trades Henri Louis Grin – or world traveller Louis de Rougemont? Or both?

When an impoverished Henri began studying the diaries and tales of some of the world’s greatest explorers and travellers at the British Museum, an entire world formed in his imagination. Soon after, he began writing illustrated tales – The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont – for Wide World magazine, and soon became a sensation, attracting the attention of both the enraptured and the sceptical.

Claiming to have lived with Aborigines in the outback for 30 years, to have travelled to New Guinea in search of pearls and gold, to have seen monsters arise from the deepest oceans, flying wombats and fish falling from the sky, this formidable man even claimed to have the knack for riding sea turtles and wrestling crocodiles.

But was it all an elaborate hoax – or did he indeed pay witness to these stunning events?

Author Mark Greenwood explores the life of Henri Louis Grin with a gentle humour but moreover an innate sense of curiosity – a bit like the man himself. At the end of the book, he poses questions to the reader, allowing them to form their own opinion on truth v reality. I really enjoyed Greenwood’s use of sophisticated language and evocative wording, that not only help illustrate the complexity of Grin’s world, but stretch the reader.

Frané Lessac’s gorgeous, folksy illustrations similarly open Grin’s world to the reader and take them on a fantastical ride where the border between fact and fiction begin to blur. This combination of word and illustration by an award winning husband and wife team makes for a book that draws you in as effectively as the highfalutin tales of this masterful Swiss storyteller, who both delighted and appalled a rapt world audience.

“Truth is stranger than fiction but De Rougemont is stranger than both.” – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899

A curious, enriching and entertaining picture book for older readers.

The Greatest Liar on Earth is published by Walker Books Australia.

Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both

The Wide World Magazine, June 1899, No. 14

Published by

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is an author of children's books and adult non-fiction. Recent books include Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, and Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline. She's also an editor, publisher and founder of Kids Book Review.