I finished Kristopher Jansma’s The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards a few weeks ago, and have been musing on how to best review it. It is easily my favourite of the books I have read this year, but I haven’t known how to write about it. Then I came across a discussion of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, and I realized that what I love best about this book is that it is a story about storytellers. I am fascinated by how these characters shape the world around them – I was reminded of movies like Big Fish, The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, as well as books like the Life of Pi, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Unless. All of these books I love – story tellers with their truth, slanted or not.
Jansma has a really great opening paragraph:
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.
I thought that was kind of magical.
This paragraph might contain the only reliable information in the book – the narrator is most definitely a writer, and the loss of his work seems to be a recurring theme throughout the book. At first he seems to have an increasingly outlandish life as he grows up, the kind of life you would only read about in a book. However, the beginning of the second half of the book made me laugh at the audacity of this narrator (and Jansma). The narrator is an active participant in the story of his life, making edits and recasting characters as he sees fit, most definitely including himself. The only real sense of grounding in the book is in the patterns – an obsession with books, obsessive and arms-length affairs, a group of three orbiting around each other. It is repeated chaos, really, and the only character who seems particularly interested in the truth makes the narrator intensely uncomfortable.
I thought this book was really well written – it is very cleverly framed and Jansma is clearly very inventive. It is witty and self-aware, with an intricate plot. I have recommended it to everyone I know, and I can’t wait for Jansma to publish another book.