I cannot claim to understand everything that this dense, cryptic, and powerfully written novel contains. Not even close. My level of understanding probably hovers around 40%. This is the most difficult book I've ever read. There were multiple times that I almost gave up, and I was tempted to skim whole chapters. But I never did. I persevered and worked my way through it, slowly, word by word, in a manner similar, I'm sure, to the process by which Michael Cisco wrote it.
For those of you who might read it, it is important to remember one thing: there is a world within the world of the novel in which time runs backwards. And I don't mean it in some simple Benjamin Button convention. It's not that people are born old and die young. The very fabric of time and space, and cause and effect is fundamentally turned on its head. Literary devices such as flashbacks, foreshadowing, and projections from a/n omnipotent POV character(s) all work differently in this novel. Cisco effectively creates a new kind of storytelling in which his readers discover the things that happened before we discover why and how they happened. It's hard to explain.
Yes, it is purposeful obfuscation. However, it is done for an important reason. As far as I can tell, the book is about reincarnation, death, and the afterlife. Things that are or can be incredibly confusing to a person experiencing them (and given the premise, we have to assume that these things do in fact exist in the book's world.). Cisco uses a confusing convention to demonstrate the confusion the characters are experiencing, and in turn he puts his readers in a similar state.
Additionally, the book itself is somewhat odd. The very first page past the cover contains a series of anagrams for the book's title, each crossed out, with only the final solution, 'Nacre Belt' left unmolested, but followed by a '?'. And then the next page begins with a narrator proclaiming that he is not ready yet, who then goes into a explanation of certain things for a few pages. This is all before we get to the traditional title page and bibliographic information. We are then presented with a timeline of the book, something that is simultaneously confusing and illuminating.
Scattered throughout the rest of the book are additional little puzzles and clues (such as the use of quotation marks surrounding only certain lines of dialog). I'm sure there is something on almost every page to solve, that, once done, will reveal another layer of understanding. However, I was unable to do so frequently enough for my own peace of mind. At times the book felt like work, and I can't say that I enjoyed a lot of it in a more traditional manner. There were entire POV characters that completely baffled me, and entire chapters that left me scratching my head.
As with The Great Lover, Celebrant will be a book I will return to in the future. I truly believe that there is a lot to gleam from its pages. I know that Cisco is a writer who carefully chooses every word he uses - there is no compromise, he does not settle for something that simply gets the job done. I wish I understood more, and I am greatly looking forward to reading the comments from other people who have read this book. Celebrant is a book to be read and studied, and I'm sure that one day I will treasure it more.