My entry title has taken on a different meaning after reading this book. Sure, there are still the similes and metaphors, but going through Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco has been nothing short of masochistic—especially since I'm itching to read my recent book purchases: the Steve Jobs biography and Cain by Jose Saramago. (Friends have asked me why don't I just stop but that would mean I'd only have three weeks to finish my November book. I haven't read an average-length novel that 'fast' and so I'm afraid I'd break my New Year's Resolution of reading one book a month if I give up on Ilustrado.)
It’s masochistic in that I derive my pleasure from catching on to more of the author's artistic flourishes and sadist in that I pass them on to you:
“The bloody neck part's covered by the grass, so it looked like that's what our lawn would've looked like if our lawn had a face and was sleeping,” p. 152
“I fanned his work out on my bed, and looked at it like pieces of a puzzle in which the picture will only be recognized once it is solved,” p. 156“Traffic moves through a corridor of hand-painted movie signs, which rise three stories high and block out the squatter areas like some Potemkin village of celluloid fantasies. It is not too strained a metaphor,” p. 157 (Getting defensive, aren’t we?)“These billboards are the iceberg's tip of the melodramatic tradition that links every genre...” p. 157“... the faces of the artistas tower like egos,” p. 157“I slide down in my seat, quick as an eel,” p. 158.“It passes unhindered through a roadblock of soldiers and disappears in the distance, like an apparition from the past,” p. 158"Manila's one big Roschach test," p. 254"... fucking her is like throwing a hot dog down the hallway,” p. 257"But the dancing artista is a bright nebula, it's like the music is coming from her. To a colorful, arcing bass line, a man with a voice like gravity sings about melodies that getcha so... Vita has her eyes shut and is doing this repetitive move where her face goes one way while her hips swing out in the opposite direction. Like a snake... The very snake who gave Eve that apple she gave to Adam,” p. 257 (I don’t even know how I survived this.)"The phone is like the moon and her face is being bathed in it,” p. 264 (Ergo, her face is bathing in the phone. Let me know how that works.)
Now, here's what really gets me. If you thought that "his epiglottis was seized" was bad, then this one's worse:
He is pushed onto his back and seven-inch spikes are driven between his radii and carpals, his patibulum is lifted onto an upright stipe. Another spike is banged through the intermetatarsal spaces of his feet.
- p. 155
If that had you at "patibulum," the author was basically saying that a person was nailed to a cross.
Compare this to an excerpt of The Exact Location of the Soul, a book I reviewed early this year, which was written by an actual doctor, Richard Selzer:
The cancer had chewed through Joe's scalp, munched his skull, then opened the membranes underneath... until it had laid bare this short-order cook's brain, pink and gray, and pulsating so that each beat a little pool of cerebral fluid quivered...
Suddenly, Syjuco's take is not only pretentious but also pathetic (since he's the writer).
In the comments section for the preceding entry, I mentioned how the characters sound so "curated" that one cannot imagine them being actual persons. They're so heavily 'processed'—from their "perfectly round, black plastic frames, usually seen on purposefully hip doctors and Asian architects" and "brilliantined salt-and-pepper hair," to their Lexus cars and units at the Trump Tower in New York. They’re all so perfect, they deserve to be exhibited in the National Museum, perhaps, hung to the wall by their carpals.
Consider this character, Sadie:
"Her room smells innocent, like a girl before fashion magazines turn her into a woman. In one corner sits a Fender Stratocaster... (Note: earlier, "vintage hip-hop [was flying] out" of her car, p. 173)... A brass bed is buried almost completely under stuffed animals... A pantheon of Steely Dan, the Spiders from Mars, and a sweat-drenched Neil Diamond stares at me from the wall. Sadie bends down to search a desk drawer, exposing her red thong panties and the tight crack of her plumber's butt. Atop the clutter on her desk is [sic] a Hello Kitty diary, a sketchbook, and a plastic pistol case open to reveal blackened rags and a disassembled Glock...”
- p. 177"... but where the fuck is my poetry diary?"Is it the Hello Kitty in front of you?""That's my dream diary.""How about the one with Fabio on it?""That's my diary diary.""What's the poetry diary look like?""It's green and, um... oh, here it is! I was sitting on it. Hehe."- p. 178
This Filipina—this person—sounds as foreign as the author's convoluted medical fiction.
And then later:
"Her hair has the scent of Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo... I tell Sadie: I'd have thought you use some fancy shampoo."
"Yeah, well. I'm just a simple kind of girl."- p. 272
*rolls eyes* By the way, she's the one driving the Lexus.
The last book I read prior to this was Jose Rizal's El Filibusterismo. I made sure to schedule my reading list this way because, according to reviews, this was a modern-day retelling of the national hero's novel.
I didn't get that anywhere; this book is not about the Philippines. The novel is all about the author himself, and that's fine really, especially if you give a shit about the author’s life. (Unfortunately, I don't, despite what my extensive review might imply.)
I conclude my review with an excerpt from Sadie's poem, written not on her Hello Kitty dream diary or her Fabio diary diary, but on the green diary she sat on:
"Night falls / like an overwrought theme; / in comes the tide / of a sea of bad metaphors. / O flower, / O rain, / O tree. / Ow! Formulaic poetry! / Will my great epiphany come at my last sentence?"
Ilustrado is exactly like that, although it wasn't so much punctuated by an epiphanic lightbulb moment as it was drowned by a sea of bad metaphors and sweeping vanity.