The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma is one of those post-modern, meta novels that is hard to describe. There are stories within stories, outside of stories all told by a highly unreliable nameless (or multiply named?) narrator. Sound confusing? Well, it was and it wasn’t. One thing that can clearly be said about The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is that it is brilliant. I feel like I’ve been saying that about books too frequently lately, but it is true. It is also true that I do not choose to read books that I don’t think will appeal to me.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a readers’ and a writers’ novel. The two main protagonists are writers who meet in college and continually push each other to achieve greater writing. One of them finds fame, the other doesn’t but leads an exciting life. At its heart it is a novel about writing. For the die hard readers out there, the novel is jam packed full of literary illusions from all over the place. I probably only caught onto a fraction of them, but the ones I saw were captivating. I suspect that due to all the literary illusions it is a novel that gets better with multiple readings, kind of like the movie Magnolia, that gets better each time I watch it.
The central theme of the book is truth and the nature of storytelling. Jansma plays with these two ideas throughout the novel to the point where you do not know what is really happening, or just happening to make a better story. The narrator slips on different identities that become so real you forget that he is just playing a part. It becomes all the more confusing when he meets his doppelganger in Ghana. While trying on these different identities the narrator tells the same story of love and loss, but in different ways and in different setting, though the outcome is always the same. It is utterly fascinating the way Jansma weaves the narrative together.
Who would like this book? As I have already mentioned, this is a writers’ and a readers’ book. As a writer it appealed to me in the same was as The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman did. It is about writing, struggling to find your story and making it better. The writing style of The Changeable Spots of Leopards, which I like to call post-something and meta, reminds me very much of Eleanor Catton‘s The Rehearsal. Because you are never exactly sure where you are, the narrative style is slightly destabilizing, but highly rewarding once you orient yourself. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is challenging at times, but it is also humorous, adventuresome and rewarding.