Ilustrado. Miguel Syjuco. In the Argo Catalog.
Syjuco nabbed some major prizes for this book and won the attention of the Globe and Mail among other media outlets. I was intrigued by the buzz around this guy because he is young, the book is considered snobby, elitist and difficult. Also, he lives in Montreal so I hope to meet him and invite him to read at Argo.
The book is exactly as it is described, though not dense and with relatively uncomplicated language. The novel is complicated (and delightful for it) due to the format the author has chosen. The story is given to us from a variety of voices, including the main character, someone following the main character, excerpts from books and interviews given by a different character and blog posts and the comments left on them. The book feels current and relies very heavily on the cleverness of Syjuco’s format. There is no question that he is a good writer his successful harnessing the different voices throughout the book demonstrate his deep understanding of literature. Very few writers I have read have managed to convincingly use multiple voices in a single novel and in succeeding at this Syjuco deserves respect. The technique is not just a flashy trick it is useful because seeing events through various voices makes situations more real and confused, just like real life descriptions of events from various people. One of the major reasons I love literature is its ability to help me see inside the minds of others, understanding fictional characters can help me have sympathy and empathy for the people I meet in my daily routines. This format of book could put such an impression into super-drive.
My main knock on the book is that the narrative itself is not a page-turner. The story did not draw me in and make me want to know what will happen next. That being said the end of the book took me by surprise. It is hard for me to judge if the end is a failure. It seems as though the end should have been more obvious from the start, maybe I just missed the signs. At any rate, the end demands that I read this book again. Something I will do with pleasure and something that some will consider a resounding success for an ending.