The Book of I by Jorge Armenteros is a beautiful, lyrical, very stream-of-consciousness type of novel. Parts of the story even read like short poems.
The narrative follows Teaston, a tortured painter who feels a strong urge to jump from a cliff. Later on it is revealed that Teaston had an unhappy childhood and eventually he broke and was forced to spend time in a mental hospital.
The author Jorge Armenteros has said he was inspired to write the book because he had an urge to start a new project, and he felt like he was on the edge of cliff, looking out over the sea. This became the opening scene in the novel.
In an interview, he said, “From there on, everything in the book comes from that white center inside my brain—the unconscious—oozing out of me every time I sit down to write. I never follow any preconceived plot or idea. I never know how the words will behave that day. Every time I sit down to write it’s a mystery and a surprise to me.”
These feelings translate into the book, making The Book of I an intense story that contemplates facets of human nature, such as alter egos and struggles with identity.
The protagonist Teaston does not know who he really is, at times feeling that his name is not his own. The narrative is told from Teaston’s perspective, so it’s not always clear even which characters are real and which ones are figments of his imagination.
In Teaston’s world, there is the White Queen, who always appears at the least opportune moments and tries to seduce Teaston in ways that disgust him. There is also Camilla, a woman who appeared out of nowhere one day and takes care of him, emotionally and sexually. Marcel is the bartender who is always attentive to Teaston’s needs. One day he brings his son, Phillipy, to Teaston’s studio to practice his paintings. Phillipy is described as a man-child; he is autistic. And there is a blind man who sees more than Teaston and leads him to truths.
There are also a number of people who jump off the cliff by Teaston’s studio. Teaston manages to witness each one fall to their death, which makes the people in Teaston’s town suspicious of him.
Armenteros is a psychiatrist, which allows him to delve deep into his main character’s mind and share his fears, hopes, and uncertainties. Armenteros leaves it up to the reader to figure out what is real and what is not, and to sort out Teaston’s complicated emotions.
Although at times the story may be hard to follow, and the themes of death and depression that run throughout can feel heavy at times, the prose is beautiful and flows well.
The Book of I is not a quick read, but for readers looking for lyrical writing with insights into characters with complicated backgrounds, I recommend picking up this novel. It is definitely a heavy literary work, but it is also beautiful.