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The first novel by George K. Ilsley, whose first story collection, Random Acts of Hatred, was published to acclaim in 2004. Told in dream-like fragments, ManBug unfolds as a love story between Sebastian, an entomologist with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Tom, a spiritual bisexual who may or may not be recruiting Sebastian for a cult. They navigate their relationship as damaged goods, 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.

256 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

George K. Ilsley

13 books209 followers
A Canadian reader and writer.

"The Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All The Things They Never Talk About," a book about my relationship with my father when he was in his 90s, is available everywhere (Arsenal Pulp Press). This book includes "Bingo and Black Ice" which was the winner of a creative non-fiction contest.

(Somehow, I won the same contest the next year for fiction.)

Previous books are the novel ManBug, and the short fiction collection, Random Acts of Hatred.

Was a writer in residence, in the Yukon, in winter. And loved it.

Link above to Instagram @g.k.ilsley

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5 stars
13 (27%)
4 stars
17 (35%)
3 stars
9 (18%)
2 stars
7 (14%)
1 star
2 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 13 books209 followers
February 5, 2021
This is my own book, so perhaps I'm biased! It still makes me laugh. I have a great capacity to forget things, so there are surprises galore as I re-read bits and pieces. It's funny, the obsessions that fuel the creative process. I did get fan mail from a gay entomologist who read the book twice, and loved it, so that happened!
As it turns out, I'm only a LITTLE obsessed with parasites.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,897 reviews646 followers
April 12, 2021
A quirky, one-of-a-kind book, that present two characters you've never seen before - and that's reason enough to celebrate. The writing is smooth and fluid, and the book is fast-paced and can be read in just a few hours. My main (really, only) complaint would be that I prefer more plot driven novels, and this is virtually devoid of anything resembling such - but that's part of its charm also.
Profile Image for TimInColorado.
225 reviews23 followers
April 4, 2021
Really liked Ilsley's spare writing in this short novel. The style was well suited to telling a story through the eyes and mind of Sebastian, an entomologist who falls somewhere on the Asperger/Autism spectrum and who is in a relationship with the free-spirited and self-serving (IMO) Tom. There is humor throughout the book of a very dry sort, mostly consisting of Sebastian's unique view of the world which is surprisingly, uncomfortably, insightful.

Loved the details about insects and insect lives. Maybe a little too much about armpits. The book got repetitive towards the end and I couldn't figure out if that was because it needed a better editor or because it was representative of the way Sebastian, or someone with Asperger's, can become fixated on an idea and bring it up repeatedly.
Profile Image for Joe.
59 reviews12 followers
April 5, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Dale .
75 reviews5 followers
October 4, 2020
Quirky, original and incredibly insightful!

Experimental fiction is not usually my thing, but Sebastian and Tom and their unique worldview are so endearing and raw. The book’s funny little anecdotes will be drawing me back for sure.
1,364 reviews17 followers
November 30, 2021
Plenty of reviewers have said so many good things about this book - and I would echo them all - that it seems superfluous to repeat them. So I am only going to say that reading this book (and I've read it three times - at least since it first came out) reminded me of why reading was such an amazing and surprising and enjoyable thing to do and gave so much pleasure, laughter and was just the best thing that you can do by yourself (not forgetting the obvious one because reading last long and is more continuously fun and more lasting in its satisfaction and I know you can read to someone or be read to - and that is lovely but reading to yourself is still the best).

If you haven't read this book - read it - give it as a present - you won't be disappointed!
Profile Image for Tim.
164 reviews3 followers
February 28, 2018
Such an refreshingly honest book written through the lens of an autistic gay man and a dyslexic bisexual man (and their relationship). There is no plot, just insights into life that that an older guy can identify with and a younger man can learn from.
Profile Image for Jeff Stookey.
Author 3 books7 followers
January 28, 2022
Reading this novel you see through the mind of a gay man with Asperger’s syndrome. An unusual novel, it is humorous, complex, sexy. Ilsley explores specific sexual obsessions worthy of Jean Genet. His prose uses repetition effectively in a droll voice that makes penetrating observations of his characters. A deep examination of the ways two very different people experience the world. A deep examination of the nuances of bisexuality versus gayness. Full of playful and imaginative language and double meanings. How many things can the phrase “interest rate” come to mean? And a lot of engaging information about insects and jokes about bugs. At the same time this is a serious book about identity, self delusion, and self awareness. Oddly the book is nearly devoid of specified physical settings, rooms, cities, furnishings, focusing instead on the minutia of interior personal thoughts and feelings, desires and aversions.
Profile Image for Kate O'Hanlon.
332 reviews32 followers
August 21, 2011
Gosh how disappointing.
I adored this book so much that I read it in one sitting. The narrative voice was strange, and wonderful and at times utterly delightful. I got sucked in to this strange love affair between a 'gay etymologist' and a 'dyslexic bisexual.'

I didn't totally like Tom, I was more concerned by his somewhat predatory encounters and his cultism than his bisexuality and I blithely assumed that the narrative would prove me right.

It didn't.

I think that if Tom had just left Sebastian for a woman I would have been fine with it. Downer ending, things fall apart, impermanence and metamorphosis. So it goes. We all feel anxious that our lovers might leave us for someone else. And yes, your bisexual lover might leave you for someone of the opposite gender to you.

But there's a subtext at play here is about more than just the relationship between two (now three) people. As he becomes suspicious that the affair may mean the end of his relationship Sebastian mention's a relationship advice column that foretells his situation, Brutal Love. Brutal Love is an obvious parallel of Dan Savage's Savage Love column in The Stranger. Savage, admirable champion of GLBT rights though he is, has in his career said some pretty offensive things about bisexuals. Eg,

"Sorry, but avoiding bi guys is a good rule of thumb for gay men looking for long-term relationships. Outside of San Francisco's alternate-universe bisexual community, there aren't many bi guys who want or wind up in long-term, same-sex relationships — monogamous or not."

There's no reason for Ilsley to invoke the spectre of Savage except to imply that he agrees with him that all bisexual men will go the way of Tom.

(This is particularly hilarious/irritating, since there's also very much an idea among women that bisexual men are just at a pitstop on the road to gays-ville. It can't be both. We all feel anxious that our lovers might leave us for someone else. And yes, your bisexual lover might leave you for someone of the opposite gender to you. But that's not actually any worse than having him/her leave you for someone of the same gender unless you are a homo/heterophobe.)

I have elected not to give this book a star rating because I cannot fault it as a book. It was beautiful. And I loved it right up to the point where it soured and left me feeling sad and disappointed.

So it goes.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Corey.
Author 12 books152 followers
August 14, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Martin.
Author 1 book11 followers
June 9, 2014
Loved it!!! Presenting two of the most peculiar characters I've met in Literature so far...I can offer a paraphrase of 'match made in Heavens' to 'match made in the bugs inhibited labyrinthic Underground' - the latter summarizing the book for me. Mind you: a book that can hardly be summarized, so...the paraphrase is just a perceptional idea after closing up the book; one of many such ideas I have about it.
Profile Image for Lil' Grogan.
541 reviews4 followers
October 13, 2011
An interesting, charming voice. The mix of humour, lurking fears, eroticism, obsessions, and bugs gave an interesting peek into the relationship between Sebastian and Tom. Lot of writing was poetic and rhythmic. Some parts were a little trite, but overall I was kept laughing and I liked the development of Sebastian (and his view of the world through colours).
Profile Image for Dasha.
74 reviews6 followers
December 25, 2015
What original, peculiar, and charming characters! I loved this book. Some of the sexual details went on slightly too long for me, but this is definitely a very memorable read. I loved its sad and happy and somewhat unclear (due to Asperger's) tones throughout, and the insightful connection between insects and humans.
Profile Image for R.J. Gilmour.
Author 2 books10 followers
April 29, 2021
Ilsley's first novel recounts the relationship between two completely different men, Sebastian and Tom. Written in a short terse style that eschews a narrative approach it is more akin to the jottings in a diary or memoir. At times the way the book was structured reminded me of Dale Peck's Martin and John. There are some really beautiful moments in the book, especially Ilsley's description of Sebastian's Asperger's. I loved Ilsley's descriptions about how the character saw colours connected to words and people, how he understood the world in terms of smell and his fascination with bugs. While a good book, some stylistic choices, including the author's use of the first names of the characters throughout the book created unnecessary distance between the text and the reader that at times made it hard to connect.
Profile Image for Luka.
334 reviews7 followers
August 9, 2020
Low rating just because I didn't care for the content, not because of the TW

r-slur and f-slur, biphobic statements
3 reviews
October 9, 2016
Repetitive, boring, focuses on an aspect of natural sciences the author does not know about beyond Wikipedia and tries to use is a witty metaphor for interpersonal relationships but miserably fails. His earlier short stories (collection) were inconsistent and flippant, but their variety was bearable as a couple were almost good. Reading this is just a waste of time.
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews

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