Reading The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma feels a bit like standing between two facing mirrors, trying to determine which reflection is the original. The story is about a gifted but insecure novelist who constantly tells lies about others.
The plot revolves around the writer’s years of incendiary friendship and competition with another brilliant but wildly unstable wordsmith. Along the way, their lives are profoundly complicated by the mercurial actor-muse they both love in entirely different, equally tortured ways. A rift in the tangled relationship sends the narrator to exotic locales on the hunt for the perfect story, but, ultimately, rumours that his old friend is on the verge of another masterpiece propel him on an even more frantic quest — one that could either redeem or destroy them both.
This deeply witty page-turner is equal parts madcap adventure and neatly structured meditation on the basic human drive to tell stories. Told through an echo-chamber series of interconnected, fictionalized accounts of events, Jansma’s prismatic means of illuminating the real story is as fascinating as it is fun. It’s an impressive debut: layered, nuanced and compulsively readable; a feat of linguistic legerdemain that treads perilously close to being just too clever for its own good — without ever actually crossing that line. A delight.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma, $29.
Lesley Livingston is the award-winning author of the Wondrous Strange trilogy and Starling. The second book in her Once Every Never trilogy, Every Never After, is in bookstores now.