Ilustrado, By Miguel Syjuco
Stylish mystery, played out in pieces
Sunday 29 May 2011
Miguel Syjuco's first novel, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008, is an astonishingly ambitious work full of avant-garde twists and metafictional turns.
The plot, such as it is, runs something like this: when his literary mentor and compatriot, the exiled novelist Crispin Salvador, is found floating face down in the Hudson River, a young Filipino writer resolves to discover the truth behind the great man's death. He leaves his New York home and returns to Manila to search for a missing manuscript that he hopes will illuminate the case. But the narrative is splintered and inchoate – in an aside, Syjuco describes his work as "shattered ... a broken mirror" – and it is up to the reader to assemble the fragments. We are presented with a bricolage of passages from Salvador's writings, texts and blogs from political commentators, and a picaresque tale of the protagonist's wanderings.
It is a compelling performance and with its juxtaposition of sources and vertiginous shifts in perspective, one feels Ilustrado is attuned to the internet age; the kind of book Jorge Luis Borges might have written if he'd lived long enough to Google himself.
There are flaws: Syjuco's running conceit that truth is merely a matter of perspective means his commentary on Filipino politics lacks authority, and his tendency to change tack weakens the book's dramatic force. Nevertheless, this uncommonly stylish and audacious debut deserves its accolades.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This is what happens when you tattoo Charmander on yourself, drunk, and with no experience
- 2 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'