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Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Gay/Lesbian Fiction) Shortlisted for the ReLit Award for Best Novel The first novel by George K. Ilsley, whose first story collection, Random Acts of Hatred, was published to acclaim in 2003. Told in dreamlike fragments, ManBug unfolds as a love story between Sebastian, an entomologist with Asperger's Syndrome (similar to autism), and Tom, a spiritual bisexual who may or may not be recruiting Sebastian for a cult. They explore the world through their relationship, seeking meaning and value in themselves through the other. They also try to avoid the inevitable toxins around them, both real and imagined--like bugs avoiding insecticide--while asking the question, Just how much poison can any of us absorb? ManBug is a beguiling, tragicomic novel about beauty, horror, desire, and what lurks just beneath the skin. Sebastian used to be a research entomologist. Mostly, Sebastian researched the development of pesticides. Much about this work in the killing field disturbed Sebastian (for example, the casual use of the concept "termination opportunity"). When distressed, Sebastian tended to express conflict.  A blurt of truth might escape his lips before he could help himself. This could be, for example, while compiling mortality data, or tweaking a statistical analysis of residual contamination by increasing the sample size. Smoothing the result, it was called. Smoothing the rough edges of truth: the research facility, through a shift in perspective, became a factory generating statistics. They virtually manufactured data, based on demand. Statisticians called the data massage, increasing the sample size. Managers called it, broadening the research horizon. Sebastian called it, diluting the evidence. Diluting it until the answer came back, "no detectable residue."  But all the poison was still in there. Somewhere. Somebody was eating it.… (more)
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Sebastian is a gay entomologist with Asperger Syndrome. Tom is a dyslexic bisexual and (nominally) Buddhist. ManBug is the nickname Tom accidentally gives Sebastian (he meant to say BugMan). ManBug the novel is the story of their relationship. The novel is written in the third person, but it is obviously filtered through the mind of Sebastian.

The story of their relationship is told in short chapters which read like ethereal wisps of stories. There is a story here, and despite the light feeling of the prose, there is depth and weight. There are also moments of incredible humor. Familiarity with Buddhism, while not necessary for the enjoyment of this novel, will certainly add new depth to some of the story.

The Kardapa Lampa was both a reincarnating lineage, and a theory Tom ascribed to. The current title holder had been empowered through a series of events whose legitimacy provoked controversy and much bitter debate. People loved him or they hated him. The Kardapa Lampa was either tearing Buddhism apart, or he was a living embodiment of the teachings.

There was no middle way here.


One of the devices that I found interesting was the way that Sebastian saw the world of feelings as colors. Throughout the book, Tom moves from blue to green.

The word "kiss" as it came off Tom's lips was a kind of blue that melted from the edges and faded, but lingered.

The word "Tom" also became bluer after this. Thoughts of Tom were oddly tinged blue somehow, in a new development.


Of course, one can't talk about a novel called ManBug without wondering about its relationship to Kafka's The Metamorphosis. The word "metamorphosis" appears several times throughout ManBug, and change is certainly a major theme in the book. Tom and Sebastian's relationship changes throughout the book, but more importantly, Sebastian's relationship to the world changes.

Another theme of the novel is impermanence, the Buddhist concept that nothing lasts and that everything, even the idea of "I", the ego, is ephemeral and changing. Ever chapter is a fleeting, impermanent thing that often leaves behind no residue. The novel, as a whole, however is concrete and will live in my mind for a long while. ( )
  dogboi | Sep 16, 2023 |
Quirky, original and incredibly insightful!

Experimental fiction is not usually my thing, but Sebastian and Tom and their unique worldview is so endearing and raw. The book’s funny little anecdotes will be drawing me back for sure ( )
  dale01 | Oct 3, 2020 |
This quick and dirty plot summary makes the whole of ManBug seem precariously twee, an exercise in quirks and idiosyncrasies, and indeed the duo are spectacularly unique in oddball ways, in particular Sebastian’s additional experiencing of synesthesia, a condition wherein he sees colours in reaction to sounds or words. It’s to Ilsley’s immense credit that ManBug, a novel without a noticeable plot, reads not as overly-precocious experimental fiction, but rather as a funny, sexy, and surprisingly profound experience.

Read the full review here. ( )
  ShelfMonkey | Aug 14, 2009 |
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Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Gay/Lesbian Fiction) Shortlisted for the ReLit Award for Best Novel The first novel by George K. Ilsley, whose first story collection, Random Acts of Hatred, was published to acclaim in 2003. Told in dreamlike fragments, ManBug unfolds as a love story between Sebastian, an entomologist with Asperger's Syndrome (similar to autism), and Tom, a spiritual bisexual who may or may not be recruiting Sebastian for a cult. They explore the world through their relationship, seeking meaning and value in themselves through the other. They also try to avoid the inevitable toxins around them, both real and imagined--like bugs avoiding insecticide--while asking the question, Just how much poison can any of us absorb? ManBug is a beguiling, tragicomic novel about beauty, horror, desire, and what lurks just beneath the skin. Sebastian used to be a research entomologist. Mostly, Sebastian researched the development of pesticides. Much about this work in the killing field disturbed Sebastian (for example, the casual use of the concept "termination opportunity"). When distressed, Sebastian tended to express conflict.  A blurt of truth might escape his lips before he could help himself. This could be, for example, while compiling mortality data, or tweaking a statistical analysis of residual contamination by increasing the sample size. Smoothing the result, it was called. Smoothing the rough edges of truth: the research facility, through a shift in perspective, became a factory generating statistics. They virtually manufactured data, based on demand. Statisticians called the data massage, increasing the sample size. Managers called it, broadening the research horizon. Sebastian called it, diluting the evidence. Diluting it until the answer came back, "no detectable residue."  But all the poison was still in there. Somewhere. Somebody was eating it.

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