Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Written in the form of a standardized test, Multiple Choice invites the reader to respond to virtuoso language exercises and short narrative passages through multiple-choice questions that are thought-provoking, usually unanswerable, and often absurd. It offers a new kind of reading experience, one in which the reader participates directly in the creation of meaning, and the nature of storytelling itself is called into question. At once funny, poignant, and political, Multiple Choice is about love and family, authoritarianism and its legacies, and the conviction that, rather than learning to think for ourselves, we are trained to obey and repeat. Serious in its literary ambition and playful in its execution, it confirms Alejandro Zambra as one of the most important writers working in any language. -- Penguin
A few months ago, I read MULTIPLE CHOICE by Alejandro Zambra. Obviously, I have been procrastinating writing this review, though. This book is unlike anything I've ever read before, and while I appreciated the uniqueness of this novel, I'm not entirely sure I understood all of it. Let me try to explain.
MULTIPLE CHOICE is a very brief novel (around 100 pages) that looks like a standardized test. The novel has different chapters with different "tests" including excluded term, sentence order, and reading comprehension. Naturally, all of the answers are multiple choice! I definitely give credit to the author for a one-of-a-kind book idea.
The questions are virtually impossible to answer. In face, many are nonsensical. However, they all make the reader stop and think. Or in the case of this reader, stop and scratch my head more than a few times. That's not to say that I didn't understand this book at all... because I did. It was just that some of the questions were so far out there that I didn't quite grasp where the author was trying to go. I'm certain more intellectual readers will not have this problem!
I did like the setup of the novel (what a unique way to tell a story!), and there were definitely sections that I appreciated more than others. This probably points to my lack of creativity, but I liked the reading comprehension section the best. This section read more like a collection of short stories, and I was able to actually enjoy the author's prose rather than try to figure out what he was trying to do. These stories were full of universal themes including love, family, self discovery and more. Plus, they were smart and funny.
MULTIPLE CHOICE was named a Best Book of the Summer by The Wall Street Journal, Elle, The Huffington Post, The Millions, Vox, Lit Hub, and more. It's obviously well regarded by critics much more intelligent than I am. Having said that, I did appreciate this novel on many levels while knowing full well that I didn't "get" all of it!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.