Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan: A Book Review


“We are all powerless in the face of evil. No, no, that’s not true. We are powerless when we wait for other people to act on our behalf. Yes, that’s it. The truly powerful man is the man who stands alone.”

I had never yet read such a mystery/ crime novel in Filipino, so I  must join my fellow  Filipino readers celebrating and heralding  this book  as the first ever Filipino crime novel.

I am even drawing a theoretical conclusion  that its being the first crime novel  could have been  one of the reasons leading the panelists of the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize ,  National Book Award , and Madrigal-Gonzalez Award  to give the award . Nevertheless, I would have mulled over the two reasons if I had been one of those respected panelists: It is well-written and timely and relevant to the present state of the country.

In my book, crime novels are blood-curdling and nerve-racking in my imagination. I can’t stand pages scattered with horrendous, horrible, hideous, and heinous scenes. They are so intense that I could collapse with cardiac arrests as though I were a witness to a crime committed by a killer, trembled with fear that I might be the killer’s next victim. I would say that one of the best examples of such novels   is Native Son by Richard Wright. Read it! I promise you. At the same time, crime novels are   unpredictable, puzzling, and brain-bashing to the extent that they would tax my stamina, and I would be at the end of my wits. But, in the end, you would let go of the breath you would have been holding for a long time. Therefore, Smaller and Smaller Circles, however, did not meet those characteristics or elements I have been borne upon. It is not that extremely arresting in that a faint-hearted would die of it. I would just remember the cliché that curiosity kills the cat. In fact, I did not even give a fig about who the criminal is, nor did I feel that there is a case the sleuths have to resolve. Rather, what I felt were the deeper and compassionate   friendship between Father Saenz and Father Lucero – Could I assume it a bromance if I were malicious? – the dog-eat-dog atmosphere in the National Bureau of Investigation, and  the powerful hierarchy of Catholicism in the Philippines. The crime case is finally emphasized in the climax, but not that revealing as what I had expected. My reaction was just that I nodded in agreement with both Father Lucero’s and Saenz’ final whodunit conclusion. In fact, anyone could guess the identity of the criminal.

Like the other writers in general, it took the author many years to finalize it. The first time she wrote it was in 1996 when she was still in her mid-twenties; the second one was in 2013 when she was in her forties. As a matter of fact, her desire to continue writing it was inspired by her deep-seated anger toward the miserable state of the Philippines due to callousness, complacency, and corruption as she put it in her acknowledgments. Consequently, the book is steeped in simply beautiful   sentences with a profound impact. They are not jaw-breakers to assimilate. There is no such feeling as “stuck in between the lines”. Rather, reading the next lines is unruffled. However, the author may have come to the point that she was at loss for any ideas. I guess it is somewhere in her first book. So, it could be obvious that she may have patched this part with her second part. Nevertheless, it’s neither here nor there since such situation happens to all writers. It is just a matter of creativity.

The most important thing that would lead me, as a panelist, to consider it deserving of those literary prestigious awards above is how the author thought about the characters. The characters represent each unit in society such as the two Jesuits who happened to be liberal and crusader against   hypocrite priests in the Philippine Catholicism, the incorrigible   director of the NBI surrounded by sharks in the institution, the reporter who is hungry for factual information, the poor families of the criminal’s victims: All simply paint the real political, economic, and social state of the Philippines as what the author must want to convey to her readers. Therefore, the recurring themes are pivotal rather than its whodunit concept.

This novel was published in 2002.It has been reprinted four times since the book was, needless to say,  hyped up by the  literary award-giving  bodies, not to mention some  book club sites like Goodreads. No wonder it has still been one of the best-sellers in some prime book stores in the country.

 It occurred to me that:

*Another interesting thing about this novel is that both protagonists are priests and forensic experts by trade. It’s a common perception in the Philippines that priests only say homilies and prayers.

*I didn’t like the ending. I have read and watched it many times.

* Could anyone tell me where in the world psychopaths don’t exist? Hahaha

Rate: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.) 


I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti: A Book Review

Niccolò+Ammaniti+-+I'm+not+scared+3Niccolò Ammaniti is an Italian writer. This book, I’M NOT SCARED ( Io Non Ho Paura in Italian), said to have redounded his fame and caught the interest of the international mecca of the literati. Me too! Me too! Me too! I want to count myself in them.

The first idea occurred to me while reading the first and second parts of this novel was Mark Twain ‘s The Adventures of Thomas Sawyer;it is sort of a picaresque novel.The main characters are also as young as Thomas Sawyer,so I was expecting that the story was something excerpted from one of the scenes in the book which centers around one concept. The only big differences are that Thomas Sawyer on the one hand,is naughtier,more audacious,has more sense of adventures with the Pollyanna principle.(No doubt children find him amusing.) Michelle Amitrano, the protagonist,on the other hand,is deeper. He bears all the hallmarks of naiveté, a young child full of curiosity about life,faith,family,and so on- a typical child as we used to be.It may be due to his parents’ ignorance of child psychology since his father is busy with his “monkey business ” , and his mother is often petulant.So when you read it,emphatic with him as though regressing to his age,you might jump to the conclusion why he channels his sexual energies into jejune and puerile adventures.I like Michelle. I can relate to him. ^_^

On the brink of finishing the denouement , I opined that I am almost familiar with the story I’m fed up with. TV writers and directors are always adapting this kind of story for TV films and dramas which they may have drawn inspiration from other novels, just the like of this Nicollo Ammaniti’s who himself may have done it likewise since this novel was published in 2001;then translated into English by Jonathan Hunt in 2003.Thus, I may give 1 star if I watch it on TV.
As a matter of fact, it has been adapted for an Italian film and I wonder if it is as interesting as the book. Could I give it 1 star too? Or I could be brainwashed as when I saw the film adaptation of the LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding of which I understood the story more, and eventually it ended up as one of my most favorite novels.

Nevertheless, nothing beats reading such kind of garden-variety story put into a book, written with beautiful sentences,peppered with vocabularies I am almost familiar with, and I could commit to memory more. Then,I was amused,chuckling, snickering,turning my head ;at the same time, I was moved ,holding my breath ,skipping a beat until,at the end of the story, I was cut to the bone as though I could not get over the fate of Michelle- I was screaming bloody murder. Blanketyblank father of his! Whoa, it is readable in one breath.

When you finish the story,you might say the ending is tearfully lamentable. But I would say that the ending as the writer intended is clearly understood. I won’t ask anything more because I have had an idea. He should not have narrated it more. Also, no need to appeal to its sequel. The ending is enough to leave you bewildered,tinged with a wave of painful reactions- anger, pity,and disappointment. It is a tearjerker more than on TV films and dramas I have watched .

Lesson learned: As the hackneyed saying goes,” FEAR IS AN ILLUSION” like what Michelle said to his friend Filippo ,when he was left in the hole,” You are not scared …there is nothing to be scared of .” Oh, poor Michelle! T_T

This book is a good read. The story is rather deeper, more realistic and sensible- something different with the other stories on TV if it had not been for the styles how the writer himself molded the sentences.

Rating : 4/ 5 stars