- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 9 hours and 21 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Penguin Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: March 21, 2013
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00BMBDHCO
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Top Customer Reviews
But the odd thing is, when I read the jacket copy, the part that I really honed in on was about the rivalry between the two writers. And while certainly that is an element of the novel's plot (such as it is), that's not the part that I should have been paying attention to. No, it was phrases like "search for identity," "web of lies," and "exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling" that are really at the crux of Kristopher Jansma's exciting debut novel.
Let's back up... There have been some fantastic novels that blurred the lines between fact and fiction through a variety of narrative devices. In Life of Pi, Yann Martel opened the novel in direct address to readers, eventually becoming the character of The Writer. And when The Bridges of Madison County was published a few decades ago, so many readers wrote to the National Geographic believing the tale was true that they made a museum exhibit of the correspondence. I digress, but the opening of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards brought these examples to mind, because the first page after the table of contents says this: "If you believe that you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience."
Interesting. We move on, but that opening note is never quite forgotten.
And this tale begins, again, in direct address to readers in the form of an author's note. It launches, "I've lost every book I've ever written." And the narrator tells the tale of that first loss. You will learn of others along the way. The last line, incidentally, of that author's note is this: "These stories all are true, but only somewhere else." And this coming after not one, not two, but three separate epigraphs on the nature of truth. Interesting.
The novel's first-person narrator seems earnest enough, but be prepared for sleight of hand--or whatever the literary equivalent might be. The storytelling here is unconventional, it's meta-fictional, it's challenging, it's non-linear, it's literary, and, oh yes, it is always interesting. Jansma's characters are... Well, to be honest, they're not all that likable when you get right down to it, but they're well-drawn enough for familiarity to breed contempt. (And in the scheme of unlikable characters, these ones are not so unpleasant as to put you off from following their journey.) You'll note that I did not describe them as "believable," because there's a heightened quality about the trio at the center of the tale, and the circumstances they find themselves in, as they chase and/or flee each other around the globe. Jansma isn't trying to replicate reality. There is artifice throughout, and it's very intentional.
His writing is fantastic! It's read-aloud, eminently quotable, just a pleasure to absorb. Everything about this novel is stylish, stylized, and sophisticated. It's also very funny. It's gonzo, romantic, clever, and the sort of book to remind readers and writers both why they do what they do. In short, this is an exhilarating debut novel. My instincts were right on this time. Score one for me.
So says the narrator of Kristopher Jansma's appealing yet frustrating novel-in-stories, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. From an early age, he wanted to be a writer, and he simply can't stop reinventing himself and the situations around him. As a teenager in North Carolina, he introduces himself as a character in a Wilkie Collins novel when pressed into service escorting a girl he is enamored with to her debutante ball. In college in the Berkshires, he meets the eccentric and talented Julian McGann, a flamboyant writer whose skill inspires rivalry and inspiration--Julian's career reaches great heights, while the narrator finds himself benefiting only when Julian's mania gets the best of him.
But in addition to the inspiration Julian provides, he also introduces the narrator to the beautiful Evelyn, a world-weary actress with whom he becomes quickly enamored. Evelyn is certainly fond of the narrator, but enjoys the control she has over him, and the two have an on-again, off-again relationship for years. When Evelyn finally decides to get married, the behavior of Julian and the narrator lead to the trio having a falling out that lasts for more than 10 years.
That's where the book falls off the rails, in my opinion. Suddenly the narrator is impersonating a college professor, telling tales to a newlywed couple in Dubai, writing papers for college students in Sri Lanka, searching for his Salinger-esque friend in Ghana and at a writer's retreat in Iceland, and tracking his one true love (or is she?) in Luxembourg. Julian McGann is now inexplicably called Jeffrey Oakes, and Evelyn's wedding to an Indian scientist somehow is transmogrified into a wedding with a prince from Luxembourg. And the conclusion, in the same airport where the book began, is a little magical but a little perplexing.
I think Jansma is a terrific writer, and I loved the first half of the book. The relationships between the characters, the adventures they found themselves in, the rivalry between writers, all were compelling and enjoyable. But when you have a main character who is more enamored with reinventing the truth at every turn, you don't know what to believe, or when what you're reading will suddenly turn into something else. I kept waiting for some sort of explanation about which parts were true--was his friend's name Julian or Jeffrey? Who did Evelyn marry? But the narrator, and the book, were mum on these details.
I love books that leave you guessing, and I love those that challenge the truth, but I struggled with this book because it never tied things up for me. Perhaps it was never meant to. But in the end, I thought this was a book with tremendous potential that sadly (and somewhat frustratingly) was never realized.
My only criticism: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards switches scenes too quickly. Plot threads are picked up and dropped. Sometimes, you want to know more about that couple in Dubai. You want more – a good sign in a novel.
Ultimately, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a book about stories, the ones that are true, and the ones we tell ourselves. “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,” Emily Dickinson says, a mantra that runs throughout this novel. With their ability to tell it slant, novels contain truths that you won’t find in the newspaper.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards demonstrates the power of literary fiction to provide enlightenment through entertainment. Great storytelling is a kind of trick, an ancient one that we’re programmed to enjoy. Like listening to some stranger’s shaggy dog tale, we know that what we’re hearing is not technically true. But we have to know how it ends. Great literary fiction is like that, wrapping us up in an engaging story that tells it slant.