Imagine a world in which literature is more important than anything else; in which everyone is an aspiring writer, and instead of ‘how are you?’, the conventional greeting is ‘what are you working on?’. This is the world of Kevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant & Forever, set on an unnamed island at an unspecified location (although my guess is it’s somewhere off the coast of Scotland). On this island, the pinnacle of writerly achievement is to win The Brilliant and Forever, an annual literary festival in which competing writers perform short stories in the hope of being awarded that most elusive of prizes; a publishing deal. The novel follows the efforts of three best friends – a boy, a girl, and an alpaca – as they compete in this battle of the bards.
I completely loved this book: it is playful, funny, clever, and sad. The world MacNeil creates is uproarious and surprising, and constitutes a brilliant and blistering postmodern satire of literary culture, how we value different literary texts, and how these are effected by societal inequalities (alpacas are people too, you know). My one criticism regards the Chinese Box structure which kicks in about halfway through; although the short stories entered into the B&F were frequently entertaining and thought-provoking, I’d have preferred to spend more time on the island, with Macy, Archie, and co. All in all, though, it is a resounding thumbs’ up from me, and anyone who disagrees can be seen off by invoking Archie the Alpaca’s helpful and metafictively appropriate catchphrase; it’s just like this jazz thing that you don’t get.