Writers’ Trust of Canada (May 2010)
Selected by the jury of the Dayne Ogilvie Grant to receive an Honour of Distinction. Jury members Brian Francis, Don Hannah, and Suzette Mayr had this to say:
"The short stories in George K. Ilsley’s Random Acts of Hatred are concise, tough little worlds, clearly observed. In his novel ManBug, he scrutinizes a gay love affair with a wittily oblique take on storytelling. Ilsley isn’t afraid of the dark, and he doesn’t shy away from being sexy and funny either."
Book Television / Richler Ink (City TV). First aired November 2003.
"I think people have an enjoyment in hatred. It makes them feel right. It makes them feel they have the moral high ground."
"I don’t see the darkness of this collection (Random Acts of Hatred) as being despairing. I see it as being ultimately hopeful, because once we look at the darkness, we’re able to see the light. When people write about death, they’re really talking about life. And when I’m writing about these moments of darkness, I’m really writing about the opportunity for people to move beyond these moments and into their more fully realized aspects of themselves—instead of being held back by these random acts of hatred."
Xtra! West Cover Story (Vancouver, October 2, 2003)
"My goal in writing, even though I am writing fiction, is to say something that is true. Not true about me necessarily, or true in the journalistic sense (if that even exists anymore), but true to the reader."
"Hatred is a basic human emotion, as primal and prevalent as love. It is easier to whip people up into an emotional frenzy using hate than it is using love. Hatred is seductive. It is also very satisfying to hate. Hatred and love march along together so closely sometimes it can be hard to draw the line between them."
Ralph Higgins (Halifax, N.S. February 2004)
Q: Random Acts of Hatred is a tough, uncompromising title ... yet I didn’t feel a sense of hopelessness. With a couple of exceptions, the reader feels that the characters will survive their less than ideal beginnings; was this a conscious choice you made as a writer or is it a reflection of your own "take" on the world for gay men?
A: "The collection was not intended to be hopeless or despairing (despite the title), although some readers do find it a downer. Other readers connect to the sense of humour, which I think is important in the gay world: we use humour to survive. I think a dark sense of humour is a really helpful tool with which to navigate the world, and keep it in perspective."
The Globe and Mail (Tom Sandborn, August 26, 2006)
ManBug is an elegantly accomplished postmodern love story . . . that works impressively on many levels, and delivers keen intellectual and aesthetic pleasures. The deadpan, minimalist prose is deployed to create unforgettable characters and a compelling, dreamlike tone.
[entire ManBug excerpt
Sebastian is surely one of the most original gay characters to ever inhabit a novel... Ilsley's first novel bristles with radiant, utterly original writing — prose that lives up to the stellar standard set by his short story collection.
When Tom, a dyslexic bisexual Buddhist, attempts to give his boyfriend, Sebastian, a gay entomologist with Asperger’s syndrome, an ironic superhero nickname, he transposes the words "bug man"; "ManBug" is the result. Author George K. Ilsley’s debut novel (he also wrote the short story collection Random Acts of Hatred) follows the bumpy course of their relationship as they traverse Tom’s addiction to deflowering sensitive "manboys" and Sebastian’s Gregor Samsa-esque identification with insects. The strength of the novel comes from Ilsley’s language play and his ability to make Sebastian's symptoms of Asperger’s, which render him unable to read emotions, serve as a handy metaphor for how at sea anyone can feel when navigating relationships. But Ilsley’s larky and radiant story provides more than the anatomy of a disorder. There’s lots of winking humor — Sebastian named his childhood pet turtle "Salmonella" — along with emotional spelunking, fun bug facts, and even a little Sanskrit, all within the context of a love story that, despite its singular participants, yields an unexpected universality.
Thank the literary god for the gift of authors like George K. Ilsley, who manage the not insubstantial task of presenting the world in an almost entirely new light, shining beams of illumination into rarely observed corners of our world.
It’s to Ilsley’s immense credit that ManBug reads not as overly-precocious experimental fiction, but rather as a funny, sexy, and surprisingly profound experience. ... The author has created something truly special, a jewel. ManBug is a joy of a read, to be read over and over.
Echo Magazine (Phoenix, June 2006)
What fascinated me about ManBug was the way in which Ilsley tells the story ... he maintains a degree of objectivity — as if viewing Tom and
Sebastian through a lens — that achieves a stylistic distance
paralleling the emotional resonance of their relationship.
Edge (Boston, July 2006)
[Ilsley] uses his literary skills to create tone-poem like pieces, brief and complicated, literate rather than literal. As an author he transforms language into music. Sometimes the resultant sonata or duet is tuneful, harmonic and charming; other times it is dissonant, harsh and results in a climax that only satisfies as the tones drift away into the night.
If looking for a unique and compelling read, ManBug is a novel choice.
Mix Brazil (June 2006, translated by Google from Portuguese)
The narrative, although it lasts, is ironic, full of amused aspects and with many universal traces.
Calgary Herald (April 22, 2006)
With a nod to Kafka and the ‘Crazy Wisdom form of Padmasambhava’ ...
ManBug states its themes outright ... a fragmented meditation on
metamorphosis and impermanence. The story of a deepening relationship
between two disparate men ... is all too believable. The reader ...
will be rewarded with moments of transcendent beauty. Ilsley’s surreal
romance is decidedly non-linear, but this fractured love story ... is
indeed oddly captivating.
Mostly this novel is about sexuality, and bi-sexuality... Ilsley is particularly focussed on the state of being bi-curious. He quotes from a biographer of Alfred Kinsey: "For Kinsey, then, labels such as ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ did not make sense. People engaged in homosexual acts; they were not homosexuals. Therefore, the only proper use for the word 'homosexual' was as an adjective, not as a noun. Pressing this point vigorously, he declared, 'It would encourage clearer thinking on these matters if persons were not characterized as heterosexual or homosexual, but as individuals who have had certain amounts of heterosexual experience and certain amounts of homosexual experience.'"
, author of American Studies, An Arrow’s Flight, and Man About Town
Mark Merlis, the award-winning U.S. novelist, generously provided the back cover blurb, for which I am extremely grateful. Mark Merlis’s three diverse novels are each accomplished and astonishing.
[ManBug is] Sexy, funny, and daring—a bug’s eye view of how we invent and elude one another, how we try to capture the ineffable with words and are left only with mantras. Reckless, unflinching, and just crazy enough, Ilsley fights his way toward a new taxonomy of the real, one of the few steps forward for gay fiction in many years. People will call this book postmodern, but it is something much finer and harder: modern, and assigned reading for everybody.
Xtra! Jim Bartley (Toronto, March 2006)
Touching and quite steamy ...[ManBug] counts yucky bug lore foremost among its eccentricities. You may never again think of lipstick or your nose or chocolate-covered raisins in quite the same way.
, Simon Fraser University,
Jill Mandrake (January 5, 2004)
Before anything else, I’ll say read this first work of George K. Ilsley. His book of twelve stories, Random Acts of Hatred, is an excellent summation of how it feels growing up in a marginal world that the social revolution took a while to reach.
The Globe and Mail (September 20, 2003)
Ilsley’s insight into erotic acquiescence and violation is striking. His implication, utterly convincing, is that we’ve witnessed the tragic birth of an erotic life destined for abuse and self-blame. ... The best stories here offer an unvarnished vision of developing gay identities warped by ignorance and abuse. Ilsley’s subtext is clear: Gay life, healthy or hellish, begins at home.
Random Acts of Hatred by George K. Ilsley confronts the reader with startling audacity. ... This is an amazingly strong collection, fearless and promising.
Quill and Quire,
Michel Basilieres (November 2003)
The collection is ultimately redeemed by Ilsley’s fearless and acute eye and the authority of his narrative voice. Much of the writing is both strong and poignant, and promises even better work to come.
The Rain: The Vancouver Review of Books,
David Watmough (Nov/Dec 2003)
Ilsley is a master of felicitous similes and dab expressions ... I was continually impressed by the savage authenticity that permeates these pages... All in all, it is my conviction that George Ilsley has managed to take the thorny and often dismal attributes of youthful gay experience in a usually unsophisticated and harsh milieu and render such subject matter viable to his creative gift. More than that, he has succeeded in confronting such intractable material and through sheer literary talent, made it a valid reading experience.
Lambda Book Report,
Stefen Styrsky (Washington, D.C. May 2004)
Ilsley’s compact style, grim subjects and sometimes graphic depictions of bodily functions has gotten him compared to Dennis Cooper. Fans of Cooper shouldn’t shrink from reading Ilsley. More importantly, those put off by Cooper’s explicitness shouldn’t fear Random Acts of Hatred. For unlike Cooper, and so much other gay fiction, Ilsley doesn’t fall into the trap of writing stories that lead the gay characters into despair and/or death. Not that he puts forward happy endings; what he does do is give his stories what can be called positive endings—ones filled with potential if the characters know how to grasp it. . . .
Despite the stark title and subjects, Ilsley’s stories confront the world in an even manner, revealing its pain and possibility.
Canadian Literature Quarterly,
Brett Josef Grubisic (2005)
... spare yet intense ... Ilsley’s narration is taut and his images fresh and incisive. ... leavened by the author’s controlled tone and resonant voice.
Ralph Higgins (Halifax, February 2004)
As anyone who has ever written a paragraph will know, it takes a great deal of work to create the easy reading of these stories. Nova Scotia native George K. Ilsley writes with power and skill about the shadowy land that lies between hate and desire, between abuse and acceptance. The tales he tells are uncompromising, stark and forceful reminders of where we came from and where some of us still live.
Front & Centre, #9,
Bill Brown (Ottawa, 2004)
George K. Ilsley’s title for this collection is more than clever, it sets the stage for the richly layered moods inside: at once playful and heartbreaking. Deftly executed, his stories put a fresh spin on universal themes: betrayal, yearning, fear, self-loathing. ... This is a writer who pares down language to enhance not only its vivacity but its vividness.
Ilsley, especially in the opening stories, and Newfoundland writer Michael Winter march to the same tight drum. Both breathe air into their readers’ imagination rather than suffocate with the florid prose often favoured in CanLit. Like Winter, Ilsley knows his readers well and trusts them.
Lovely book, Mr. Ilsley. More, please.