I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written. I lost the first one here in Terminal B, where I became a writer, twenty-eight years ago, in the after-school hours and on vacations while I waited for my mother to return from doling out honey -roasted peanuts at eighteen thousand feet.
“From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer. From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.”
I was really, really, really looking forward to reading this book, and I was not disappointed. The writing immediately grabbed me, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I won’t say that I read it in one sitting because I got distracted by the Vlogbrothers, but it was still a really fascinating novel, the kind of novel that doesn’t really have a specific “genre”. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards discusses different types of truths and lies and fictions, as well as being really entertaining. I notice that I’m using a lot of “really’s” in this review.
The three main characters in The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards were also really fascinating to me. Evelyn is fascinating not only to our unnamed narrator, but also to me, and I’m sure other readers. She was such an interesting mix of different parts. Both Julian and the narrator were really interesting too. More really’s.
There are also brilliant stories within stories, and more stories within those stories. This was a bit confusing, but also a great technique. It creates more layers, and characters that are based off of characters who are based off of characters who are based off of real people (presumably). And that’s where the truth and lies and fiction come in.
I also loved that the reader gets to travel with the narrator all over the globe: New York, Sri Lanka, Dubai, India, and more. There are so many locations that keep the book varied. You never know where the narrator is going to be next; he only stays in many of the locations for one chapter, and then he moves again. He encounters multiple reincarnations of Julian and Evelyn along the way before he finally meets up with them again. He also encounters someone who seems to be a doppelganger in Ghana.
As I’ve said many times before, I love books that have multiple narratives woven throughout them, and The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards definitely had that, not in the sense that the reader follows multiple characters at once, but in the sense that there are multiple versions of each story, stories within stories, and more.
Sometimes it seemed a bit unrealistic to me that the narrator could conceal his name so well. There were so many moments when someone would be about to say his name, and then the author would distract us, or something else would happen, and you wouldn’t get to find out. But then he gets involved with this girl, Julia, and he doesn’t even tell her his name. What I did like was that throughout the book, he goes through different aliases; his first at a debutante ball under the name of a Wilkie Collins character.
I think that image: someone not of that circle, at a debutante ball, using the name of a Wilkie Collins character, kind of shows what the whole novel is like. It’s humorous, mysterious, evocative, powerful, and interesting, literary fiction at its best. I’m so, so glad that I wasn’t disappointed about this one, as I sometimes am when I get irrationally excited about a book. This is definitely a novel that I would whole-heartedly recommend. It’s well worth reading. Thanks to Viking for sending me a review copy.
|Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!|