I LIKE books. I don’t love books—I like them. Yes, there is a difference. Book-lovers have a lot to say about a single book; all I can say is whether I like it or not. Book-lovers buy all those plain notebooks so they can jot down their thoughts about the book they are reading; I simply read. Book-lovers join book clubs; I like reading alone. You see, I’m no bookworm, but I like books.
I’m not picky with my books. Original or secondhand, written by a foreign or a local author, hardbound or not, whether from a bookstore or a book sale—it doesn’t matter, as long as I can read them. What I’m most sensitive about books, though, is the genre. Is it about a sparkly vampire? Not my kind of tea. What about an average teenager-turned-princess? Let me read it!
I enjoy reading non-fiction books, but most of the time I’m drawn to fiction. The review you are about to read is about a peculiar book—a hybrid of the two classifications.
“Ligo na ü, Lapit na me” is the third book of Eros S. Atalia, published by Visual Print Enterprise. It is the story of Intoy, a graduating college student, whose first experience of love and heartbreak because of Jen—his friend “with benefits and perks”—takes him to places he hasn’t been before in his life. The story is told in the first person, from the eyes of Intoy himself. His perky personality—sometimes, sentimental; most of the time, random—also takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride through Pinoy culture and traditions.
If it is hard to imagine what the author’s writing style is, think Bob Ong and his hilarious antics. Atalia’s writing is so similar to Bob Ong that I had to convince myself that Bob Ong does not want to become famous–surely he wouldn’t use another pen name just to make himself known, right? Still, how could they sound very much the same? Beats me.
However, as similar as their voice may be (and their publisher, too!), “Ligo na ü, Lapit na me” can never be a Bob Ong creation. What I have observed as I read Bob Ong in the past (from his first book “ABNKKBSNPLAko?!” up to “Macarthur”) is this: if he starts random, he goes random all the way. Bob Ong never puts random and plot together. At the same time, if he decides to narrate a story—with an actual plot, a climax and an ending—he will not induce random Pinoy culture in essay form. The culture is right there, portrayed in the story itself.
Atalia, however, brings essay and fiction together—which is both the strength and weakness of his book. Inserted within Intoy and Jen’s story are commentaries on Filipino culture and behavior—how can a penniless man enjoy himself in the outskirts of Manila? Why do branded coffee shops sell candy-like coffee? Where can you find the place called “biglang liko?”
It works, because Intoy’s character is given more depth by this dominantly positive attitude of his. This vibrant outlook in life helps him through his very first heartbreak, although, at the side, he did resort to the common rituals of men whenever heartbroken—casual sex, beer, and girls. Intoy is, somehow, a representation of men in our society: rational, not emotional. His commentaries on peculiar Filipino habits—and the Filipino culture in general—are, all in all, the portrayal of this rational self.
But it may backfire, this too much branching of topics that are not necessarily related to the main story. By this format there is a possibility for the reader to lose his way out of the main storyline and into the essays that cover different topics. The reader may gain insights from these topics, but may lose grasp of the main story altogether. Of course, this defeats the purpose, because the story itself is the context of all the little side notes that the author (or Intoy) made in the book.
The wrong spelling of words sprawled all over the book cannot be unseen. At first I had this impression that the author did it intentionally. But after reading the book and not reading any disclaimer about it at all, it annoyed me. How can a Palanca awardee-slash-UST professor miss all those words? More importantly, how can his editor/s miss them? How about his publisher? No, I don’t even think it is part of the writing style. How come I can’t remember any misspellings in Bob Ong’s works?
And then there’s the ending. The supposed cliffhanger ending that did not have that effect at all. As Intoy’s commentaries prolonged the “much awaited” resolution, the ending became rather predictable and boring. One will not feel the I-want-to-read-the-sequel effect that the author wanted to achieve. In contrary, the cliffhanger was a good ender to the overly-complaining Intoy, whose “noble” love does not seem so noble after all.
The book is an easy read, especially if you are a fan of Bob Ong’s writing style. It is interesting, but I would say it is in the average scale of the meter. It has a main story, but somehow the author knew that it is not interesting enough to capture the reader’s full attention, so he had save it by inserting funny comments on how harsh and weird the world is.
The verdict? I don’t like this book. And nope, it’s not in my “To Reread” list.