The premise for Smaller and Smaller Circles by Filipina author F.H. Batacan sounds far-fetched at first—two Jesuit priests are also forensic experts and they’re investigating a series of gruesome murders of young boys in Payatas that occurs every first Saturday of the month. The boys’ faces have been scraped off, and heart and other organs have been eviscerated.
The novel sounds like it’s not for the faint of heart, but even those not used to gory suspense or mystery novels should give Smaller and Smaller Circles a shot. There’s a reason why Batacan won the Palanca Grand Prize, the National Book Award, and the Madrigal-Gonzalez Award for this book, and why it’s recommended reading at universities like Ateneo.
The novel, first published in 2002 by University of the Philippines Press, has also been rereleased into worldwide and local editions (that’s the blue and red nifty-looking editions you see at Fully Booked and other bookstores). Smaller and Smaller Circles has also been recently turned into a film directed by Raya Martin, starring Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero in the roles of the Jesuit priest protagonists. Bembol Roco, Carla Humphries, TJ Trinidad, and Christopher De Leon are also part of the cast. The full trailer, which was released last Sept. 29 at 9:29PM, can be viewed here. The much-awaited film, on the other hand, will be shown in theaters on Dec. 6.
As of now, let’s whet our appetites for the film by rereading Batacan’s multi-awarded novel, or by reading it the first time. Here are reasons why we think Smaller and Smaller Circles is one of the best local novels there is:
- The novel is a literary masterpiece and suspense-filled page-turner all at the same time.
Batacan is truly a master of words. Smaller and Smaller Circles is written with colorful descriptions of characters and locations, as well as smart dialogue interspersed with the characters’ innermost thoughts. The descriptions don’t bog down the book however, and the story still moves briskly. In fact, Batacan keeps readers hooked to her murder mystery, making the book hard to put down since they will want to know who did it, why, and how the killer will get caught. All this in a well-written, well thought-of package, with unique characters to boot.
Some fascinating details include the forensics techniques the Jesuit priests used to investigate the murders which are explained in detail. Other details feel like home though and will delight Filipino fans, such as McDonald’s Katipunan where one of the priests gets his Sausage McMuffin and coffee.And while the premise may sound far-fetched at first, the author fills the book with realistic details like these in order to make one believe that something like this can happen.
2. You get to meet the coolest, quirkiest characters who are all fleshed out.
There are no one-dimensional characters in this book. Part of Batacan’s talent is presenting characters that feel like you know them in real life, complete with quirks, eccentricities, and temper problems. There’s Fr. Saenz’s musical taste consisting of classical to The Doors and R.E.M, Fr. Jerome’s temper problem, and the lovable friendship of the two. There’s also reporter Joanna Bonifacio’s knowledge of various languages, with her speaking aloud in Italian when she comes upon one of the victims’ bodies because that’s how she handles stress.
Even the thoughts of the killer are presented anonymously and in first person for most part of the book, alternating with every chapter opening. When readers finally get to the eureka moment when the culprit is identified, the person won’t feel like a stranger at all because they’ve been reading the killer’s most intimate thoughts since the novel began. Thoughts like the motivations, hugots, fears, of the killer are revealed throughout so readers have a thorough characterization. The victims are also given short, but rich backgrounds that allow readers to empathize with each individual, knowing where each boy came from.
3.Relevant issues in Filipino society are presented in the book.
You get to read about issues in local society, but not in a preachy manner because Batacan integrates the issues seamlessly into the storyline. The book may have been published in 2002 but a lot of these issues, sadly, are still relevant now in 2017. Among them are the corruption and inefficiency of the police force, the effects of poverty in a community like Payatas, and what can happen when childhood traumas are left unresolved. All these allow for an insightful read, and can also make readers shookt, to use millennial terms.