Multiple Choice – Alejandro Zambra
Release Date: 19/07/2016 (US) 06/10/2016 (UK)
Publisher: Penguin Books (US) Granta Books (UK)
Pages: pp 128 RRP: £11.32 (US Paperback) £12.99 (UK Hardback)
Kindle edition available for preorder here (£8.54)
I’ve seen some interesting uses of formats over the years, but I’ve never quite seen anything like this. Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice uses a standardised test format to challenge our perceptions of storytelling and how we create meaning.
Zambra is known for experimentation in his work. In this instance, he utilises a structure inspired by the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test, used in Chilean university applications between 1967 and 2003 – with a specific focus on the Verbal Aptitude Test from 1993 (which the author himself took). The text is made up of 90 questions divided between five sections, with such areas of focus as ‘Excluded Term’, ‘Sentence Order’ or ‘Reading Comprehension’. Each question is designed to be open to multiple interpretations (which therefore encourages multiple readings of each question) – be it due to choosing a different word to fill in the blank section of a sentence, or a different order to arrange the paragraphs of a section. Whilst the questions and their potential answers start off as oddly comic, they begin to develop into something bolder as the test goes on, where they eventually develop into small pieces of fiction, focusing on key points of transition in life (such as a death in the family in one particular question). In doing this, Zambra can not only make the same question incredibly poignant or bitingly funny (even when he is deliberately pointing the reader to one specific answer) depending on the choices of the reader, but he can also highlight the invisible guiding hand of the writer.
I can safely say I have never read anything like Multiple Choice. Zambra has created a fascinating piece of work that will especially appeal to lovers of language. Multiple Choice asks the reader to consider the importance of the questions we ask in life, and how they may offer more insight than the answers we seek. If you’re looking for something to challenge you in unexpected ways, give this a read.