Billy Liar
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"Billy Liar" Summary

By Keith Waterhouse

fiction | 186 pages | Published in 1963


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

In this gripping thriller, a detective investigates a serial killer who leaves enigmatic clues at every crime scene.


"Billy Liar" is a novel by British author Keith Waterhouse, first published in 1959. Set in the fictional town of Stradhoughton, a Northern industrial town, the story follows the daydreaming and imaginative Billy Fisher, a young man who often escapes from the reality of his dull job and mundane life through a series of elaborate lies and fantasies. As the novel unfolds, Billy's web of lies becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, leading to a series of humorous and poignant events.

Brief Synopsis

The setting of "Billy Liar" is the town of Stradhoughton, a working-class Northern town in England. Billy Fisher is a 19-year-old clerk in a local funeral parlor, bored with his job and unsatisfied with his life. He spends most of his time in his own imaginary world, constructing elaborate fantasies to escape the monotony of his existence.

The novel is divided into three acts, each focusing on a different day in Billy's life. Act One takes place on a Saturday morning, where Billy is struggling to get out of bed to return to work after a night out. He is constantly late and invents various excuses for his tardiness. Act Two takes place on a Sunday, where Billy's lies become more and more tangled as he juggles multiple relationships and tries to avoid the consequences of his actions. Act Three occurs on a Monday morning when Billy must face the consequences of his lies and make some difficult decisions.

Main Characters

Here are the key characters in "Billy Liar":

Billy FisherThe protagonist, a dreamer who constantly invents lies to escape his dull reality and cope with his dissatisfaction
Liz, Barbara, and RitaBilly's three love interests, each representing a different aspect of his desires and fears
Geoffrey FisherBilly's father, who is disappointed in his son's lack of ambition and constantly berates him
Alice FisherBilly's mother, who tries to understand and support her son, but struggles to comprehend his constant lying
Mr. ShadrackBilly's boss at the funeral parlor, who is oblivious to Billy's deceptions but grows frustrated with his constant tardiness

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: Saturday Morning

  • Billy struggles to wake up on time for work, inventing various excuses for his tardiness.
  • He daydreams about writing a successful comedy script and becoming famous, leading to him missing the bus.

Chapter 2: Sunday Morning

  • Billy tries to juggle multiple relationships with Liz, Barbara, and Rita while maintaining his lies.
  • His lies become increasingly convoluted, and he struggles to keep up with them.
  • He invites Liz to London under the pretense of a career opportunity but is caught by his father.

Chapter 3: Monday Morning

  • Billy must face the consequences of his lies as Liz, Barbara, and Rita confront him about his deceit.
  • He is fired from his job at the funeral parlor for his repeated tardiness.
  • Billy realizes the extent of the mess he has created and contemplates his future.

Main Events

  • Billy's constant late arrivals to work and his inventing of excuses for his tardiness.
  • His elaborate lies about writing a comedy script and plans to move to London.
  • Juggling multiple relationships with Liz, Barbara, and Rita, leading to increasing complications.
  • The confrontation with his father and his subsequent firing from his job.
  • Billy's realization of the consequences of his actions and his consideration of his future.

Themes and Insights

  1. Escapism and Fantasy: Billy Fisher's constant lying and elaborate fantasies reflect his desire to escape the reality of his dull life and mundane job. This theme explores the limitations of escapism and the importance of facing one's responsibilities.
  2. The Dangers of Deception: Billy's lies and deception create a web of complications that become increasingly difficult to manage. The novel highlights the consequences of dishonesty and the negative impact it can have on relationships and personal well-being.
  3. Social and Cultural Constraints: Set in a working-class Northern town in Britain, the novel explores the limitations and expectations placed upon individuals based on their social backgrounds. Billy's desire to break free from these constraints and pursue his dreams is a recurring theme throughout the book.
  4. Generational Conflict: The strained relationship between Billy and his father, Geoffrey, highlights the generational divide and the clash of values between the older and younger generation. This conflict serves as an exploration of societal expectations and the challenges faced by young individuals in pursuing their dreams.

Reader's Takeaway

"Billy Liar" is a witty and engaging novel that explores themes of escapism, deception, and societal expectations. Through the character of Billy Fisher, readers are invited to reflect on the consequences of lying and the limitations of living in a fantasy world. The novel provides a humorous and poignant commentary on the struggles faced by young individuals in finding their place in the world and pursuing their dreams.


Keith Waterhouse's "Billy Liar" is a classic novel that delves into the world of a young man's imagination and the consequences of his constant lying. Set in the fictional town of Stradhoughton, the story follows Billy Fisher as he navigates a web of deceit, complicated relationships, and personal conflicts. With its engaging narrative, well-developed characters, and exploration of themes such as escapism and deception, "Billy Liar" continues to captivate readers and offer insights into the complexities of human nature.

Billy Liar FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Billy Liar' about?

    Billy Liar is a novel written by Keith Waterhouse. It follows the life of Billy Fisher, a young man living in Yorkshire, England. Billy daydreams about escaping his boring job and mediocre life, constantly lying to himself and others along the way.

  2. Who is the author of 'Billy Liar'?

    The author of 'Billy Liar' is Keith Waterhouse, an English novelist and playwright.

  3. Is 'Billy Liar' part of a series?

    No, 'Billy Liar' is a standalone novel.

  4. When was 'Billy Liar' first published?

    'Billy Liar' was first published in 1959.

  5. Has 'Billy Liar' been adapted into other forms of media?

    Yes, 'Billy Liar' has been adapted into a successful stage play, a film, and a television series.

  6. What is the genre of 'Billy Liar'?

    'Billy Liar' falls under the genre of comedy and coming-of-age fiction.

  7. Is 'Billy Liar' suitable for young readers?

    While 'Billy Liar' is generally suitable for young adult readers, it does contain some mature themes and language.

  8. Where does 'Billy Liar' take place?

    'Billy Liar' is set in the fictional town of Stradhoughton in Yorkshire, England.

  9. What is the writing style of 'Billy Liar'?

    The writing style of 'Billy Liar' is characterized by its humorous and satirical tone, with witty dialogues and vivid descriptions.

  10. Where can I purchase 'Billy Liar'?

    You can purchase 'Billy Liar' online or at your local bookstore. It is available in various formats, including paperback, hardcover, and ebook.