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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Multiple Choice

Alejandro Zambra

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To purchase Multiple Choice

Title: Multiple Choice
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 103 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Multiple Choice - US
Facsímil - US
Multiple Choice - UK
Multiple Choice - Canada
Facsímil - España
  • Spanish title: Facsímil
  • Translated by Megan McDowell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing concept, nicely realized

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 17/3/2017 Lauren Elkin
The Guardian . 5/10/2016 Chris Power
The NY Times Book Rev. . 28/8/2016 Idra Novey
The Observer . 23/10/2016 Anthony Cummins
Publishers Weekly . 16/5/2016 .
The Spectator A 15/10/2016 Lee Langley
TLS . 21/12/2016 Keith Miller

  From the Reviews:
  • "Zambra’s clever, tricksy little book can’t help spinning stories every chance it gets. (...) Zambra, author of three novels and a short-story collection, is at his most spare here, but also his most innovative. By taking the tests he’s set for us, by participating in the stories by reconstructing and editing them, we’re invited to reflect on the most basic needs fiction tries to meet, or according to which it is judged. " - Lauren Elkin, Financial Times

  • "Like all the author’s previous books, it blends fiction and memoir and messes enthusiastically with form. It is funny, melancholy, surprising. It is silly at times, profound at others. Its interactivity will entertain you, and might just change the way you think about fiction." - Chris Power, The Guardian

  • "The book is a work of parody, but also of poetry. (...) Zambra is playing around here, but it’s high stakes, serious play. (...) Zambra’s wry humor gives buoyancy to even the most disturbing story" - Idra Novey, The New York Times Book Review

  • "While there’s a degree of brain-flexing fun to be had in thinking through the various permutations on offer, the sense grows that Zambra’s elaborate furniture is just that: a frictionless frame for stories that might have existed equally well on their own. )...) (I)t’s hard to escape the feeling that, despite its inventive form, Multiple Choice amounts to little more than a cute jeu d'esprit, amusing but hardly nourishing." - Anthony Cummins, The Observer

  • "Zambra’s writing is intensely tied to his Chilean identity, and nearly every story or text references Chile in some way. In just a few pages he manages to be repeatedly engaging, smart, funny, and sad." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Redolent of flash-fiction or a poem captured mid-stanza, these pages give us the real world, caught on the wing, no fantasy or sci-fi hypothetical alternatives. It’s like crossing a landscape illuminated by lightning, each bright flicker giving us a glimpse of a love affair, a childhood trauma, a sibling conflict -- multiple narratives, moments of lives we will never know in full. (...) Life is anatomised, but this is composition set in the key of fun -- ironic, playful, sometimes bitter." - Lee Langley, The Spectator

  • "There’s a general flavour of paranoia and doublethink at play, of the need for cunning and second-guessing and dissimulation when you live under a dictatorship." - Keith Miller, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       'A Note on the Text' at the end of Multiple Choice explains that it is:

based on the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test, which students took in December each year from 1967 through 2003 in order to apply to Chilean universities. [...] This book specifically takes the form of the Verbal Aptitude test [Prueba de Aptitud Verbal] as it was given in 1993, the year the author took the exam. At that time it consisted of ninety multiple-choice exercises presented in five sections.
       Yes, Multiple Choice is a bit like the (verbal part of the) SATs (the nearest US equivalent) -- and in a nice touch the book includes a sheet at the end where readers can mark their answers. (There is, however, no answer key: you will not be graded.)
       The first section -- 'Excluded Term' -- is the one which is most obviously difficult to make any sort of narrative out of, the point here being to choose: "the word whose meaning has no relation to either the heading or the other words listed". It's also arguably the most challenging to translate, as not all the wordplay -- limited to single word-options -- works in English the same way as Spanish. The change of titles from the Spanish to the English versions of the book -- the understandable substitution of 'Multiple Choice' for 'Facsímil' (facsimile, or copy) -- also immediately comes into play here, as the Spanish version begins:

     A) copia
     B) imitación
     C) simulacro
     D) ensayo
     E) trampa


     A) calco
     B) duplicado
     C) fotocopia
     D) temblor
     E) súplica
       While the English has it:

     A) manifold
     B) numerous
     C) untold
     D) five
     E) two


     A) voice
     B) one
     C) decision
     D) preference
     E) alternative
       So the Spanish and English texts diverge .....
       Still, there's some creative fun here, from some of the options for 'Blacklist' -- 'shitlist' and 'novelist', for example -- to:
10. COPY

     A) cut
     B) paste
     C) cut
     D) paste
     E) undo
       In the second section of the test (questions 25 through 36) each exercise presents five sentences, and then there are five (and, in the final case, ten) options as to what order they can be put in; here, already there are stories to be created. Zambra utilizes not only the different order(s) to allow for different stories, but in some cases the possible answers themselves are revealing, as in one (35), where all five answer-options are identical, or another (33) where one of the answer-options allows for leaving out one of the sentences (the defining: 'You are not crazy').
       The third section (questions 37 through 54) presents sentences -- mostly a single one, but also some with several sentences -- with words left out, with readers having to select the most appropriate word(s) to fill in the blank(s). This already allows for more elaborate and meaningful content -- or, for example, pointed political commentary, as in the first of these questions:
37 ____________________ the thousand amendments they've made to it, the Chilean Constitution of 1980 is a piece of shit.

     A) After
     B) Due to
     C) In spite of
     D) Thanks to
     E) Notwithstanding
       In the fourth section (questions 55 through 66) what amount to texts or stories of several lines or paragraphs -- between five and, in the final one, twenty-five -- are presented and readers are given options as to which line(s) or paragraph(s) to eliminate, "because they either do not add information or are unrelated to the rest of the text". Here Zambra can flesh out stories -- and, of course, the options of excising certain (or even all) details can shift and change meaning.
       In the final section, there are three texts -- actual stories -- each with its own set of 'Reading Comprehension' questions. Here Zambra can tell actual stories -- while the questions about them then allow him to add another dimension, that includes commentary and interpretation. With the first text partially about multiple-choice tests, Zambra can also poke some fun at the larger exercise. (Best answer: option E for question 71: "(E) The kid next to me marked C, so I'm going to mark C as well".)
       Fragmentary though Multiple Choice is, it builds towards a whole of sorts -- helped by the form of the exercises, which become more substantial, section by section. There is no full, coherent picture of person or country here, and yet the text is a personal and ultimately revealing one; it is also often surprisingly poignant. And Multiple Choice is also a sly and entertaining commentary on nation (and the education/testing system ...).
       Within the limitations of the form, Multiple Choice is clever and well-realized, and it is certainly good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 August 2016

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Multiple Choice: Reviews: Other books by Alejandro Zambra under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Alejandro Zambra was born in 1975.

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© 2016-2022 the complete review

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