Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Gina Apostol

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Bibliolepsy

Title: Bibliolepsy
Author: Gina Apostol
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 201 pages
Availability: Bibliolepsy - US
Bibliolepsy - UK
Bibliolepsy - Canada
  • The 2022 US edition comes with a new Author's Note

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

A- : delightfully conceived and realized

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/1/2022 Idra Novey
The Philippine Star . 6/11/2021 Danton Remoto

  From the Reviews:
  • "Apostol grants Primi an exhilarating agency in pursuing these literary and sexual quests, merging her bookish and bodily cravings. (...) These last sections have more immediacy and fully realized scenes than the rest of the book. As in many first novels, events in Bibliolepsy often occur in summaries rather than sustained scenes that extend long enough to evoke the nuances of a significant moment." - Idra Novey, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is a fast and dizzying read afterward, the pages turning and turning (.....) The first part is good, but the second part is something else: an excellent tour de force. (...) In this slim but marvelous novel, Gina Apostol serves up Manila in the 1980s: swift, Swiftian, sexy and sad." - Danton Remoto, The Philippine Star

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The short opening section of Bibliolepsy defines the "neurological neologism" (so Apostol in her 'Author's Note on the US Edition' of this novel (first published in the Philippines in 1997, but only published abroad in 2022)) of the title, including describing it as: "a mawkishness derived from habitual aloneness and congenital desire" -- and as: "an endless logo-itch, desperately seeking, but it can't get no satisfaction". Even as the next section then presents: 'What I hate about the bibliolept', readers find themselves from the first carried along in a rush of language from someone obviously passionate about reading -- irrepressibly so: "Gush, gush, sputter, sputter, talk about books. Like a little girl without experience, unable to keep love from her lips".
       In the first of the novel's two parts the narrator is very much such a little girl, chronicling the circumstances of her unusual childhood. She is always drawn to reading, but even as she loses herself in it the narrative doesn't: in quick-sketch form Apostol has Primi -- as the girl is called -- lead the reader through her turbulent early years, marked by much beyond just her reading.
       Her father, Prospero, is an animator (a cartoonist, including of 'komiks', as they're called in the Philippines), her mother, Prima, an "amateur taxidermist" (and: "a beautiful woman, but she was crazy"); they're a colorful pair -- but, when Primi is eight, they simply disappear off the ship that the family is traveling on. Primi and her much older sister, Anna, are left in the care of 'the Abuelita', "my mother's surly mother" -- though she is never much of a (physical) presence in their lives and dies only a few years later, with Anna then, very loosely, taking on Primi's guardianship. In Primi's earlier childhood, the Abuelita had made quite an impression with the generous gifts she gave the sisters -- asking them: "to pick any object we wished and we could have it", which the girls took ruthless advantage of; among the great presents they got was a complete Oxford English Dictionary-set, an entry-way to the world of words for young Primi.
       Primi is book- and reading-obsessed, but her account does not bog down in bookishness; Apostol has a deft, light touch that makes Primi's bibliolepsy simply a natural and integral part of her being which doesn't even stand out that much considering the unusual course of her childhood and youth. If not completely allowing her to find her bearings, it at least gives her some; still, books and reading are not so much a hold for her, but (a major) part of her very essence.
       What literary reference there is is woven in quite easily, without over-explanation; always immersed in an ocean of books, Primi doesn't need to constantly harp on that point. What specific mentions there are are also nicely to the point -- not least her complex relationship to the omnipresent towering figure of Philippine letters, Noli me tangere and El Filibusterismo-author José Rizal:

I could tell he, too, was cursed with bibliolepsy, except he cursed the rest of us by also writing, not just reading. I grew up knowing Rizal's library -- thus, also the legend of the Moth and the Flame, and the incredible Alpine story of William Tell. I was taught to be a reader through the stories about Rizal, and being so caught in his reflection, so held in his power, I tried very hard to escape.
     It was a losing battle.
       The second part of the novel sees Primi through her teenage and college years, culminating in the change of regimes in 1986, when longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos was finally removed from power. The events around her then, especially from the 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino through the EDSA Revolution (named after the highway that the protesters filled, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), are inescapable, and yet in many ways Primi practically sleepwalks by them, still and always lost in her bibliolepsy, remaining: "A vagabond from history, a runaway from time". Seeking, too -- notably sex, as she seeks out a variety of men -- Primi comes in touch with many people who are very actively involved, in various ways, but she remains mostly on the periphery. Typically, too, for example:
     That was 1985, and the winds of change were making people sing folk songs that were driving me nuts.
       Meanwhile, sister Anna takes on a much more prominent role, a prophetess in her own land -- "Nostradamus with a plastic bowl, Cassandra with a bandehado".
       Primi's circles include many writers -- which also makes for an amusing glimpse of the Philippine-writers'-scene of the times, not least regarding the Palanca Awards (and authors' frequently dashed hopes), as:
there is not much for the Filipino writer but the Palancas. Even when you're published, the indifference of the experts will kill you.
       Amusing, too, is how, as the revolution comes, several of the writers she knows variously abandon their supposed calling. So also there's a former English teacher of hers she comes across selling boiled peanuts -- "Business has never been better", he happily tells her, and insists: "It beats teaching those g-g-godawful Romantic poets". The revolution offers new opportunities, and he, for one, has embraced them:
     "I think th-this is the b-business for me: as W.H.Auden says -- p-poetry makes nothing happen. Whereas -- look at this !"
       Primi sees, with all that is happening around her, that: "My country had become an increasingly tellable tale", but it is that prism she sees even this through, her world and worldview remaining book-centered. She is sufficiently in the midst of the unavoidable goings-on -- drawn in and along, if not very much of an active participant --, which makes for an effective -- because oblique -- perspective on events and history, a narrator who is not completely caught up and carried away like almost everyone else is.
       Apostol shows a beautiful light and easy touch here. There is a constant stream of wordplay and literary reference, but it is not overdone (as is so often the case in these kinds of stories with word- and book-loving narrators). Primi is precocious, but Apostol does not overdo her precocity, and both the child and then younger adult still display a realistically appropriate level of bafflement and lack of understanding of much around them (as well as an indifference to actually figuring much of this out: the books will do instead -- not so much the world to retreat to, but rather the main world she inhabits).
       Apostol manages the difficult balancing act here of creating a convincing character in a larger-than-life and very colorful world around her. It works in part so well because of the quick, easy style, feeling both dashed off and yet consistently to the point. The first of the two parts of the novel, less tethered to actual events, is the more successful; the inescapable Yellow Revolution then ties Apostol and Primi down somewhat in the second part, and while it is well-integrated into the story -- Bibliolepsy is a fine take on those significant times in recent Philippine history -- can't quite range as freely as the first part did.
       First novels, and novels featuring book-obsessed narrators, are so easily and often vastly overwritten, but Bibliolepsy is an airy delight, the writing quick and sharp. Apostol shows just the right restraint -- making for an all the more convincing and effective work, with the presentation of neither the narrator's (or the author's) bibliolepsy nor the political events of the events ever getting heavy-handed; the contrast of Primi's literature-focused calm with these turbulent times is perfectly pitched. It's a lovely piece of work, and makes for very good reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 December 2021

- Return to top of the page -


Bibliolepsy: Reviews: Gina Apostol: Other books by Gina Apostol under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Filipino author Gina Apostol was born in 1963.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021-2022 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links