Saturday, 8 August 2009

'Reader, beware this book'

by James Palumbo

If you've been anywhere near the London underground recently you may well have seen a poster which looks similar to the book cover above. What with quotations made to look as if from the bible, celebrity blurb from figures as diverse as Stephen Fry and Noel Fielding, and the increasingly obligatory website, it's fair to say I think that this book is being given a fair old push. This will partly be to do with the target audience given that the author James Palumbo, son of Lord Palumbo, is the man behind the Ministry Of Sound 'brand' (which includes record label and branded products as well as the nightclub itself). That will also explain why my copy of the book came in a rather sleek, stiff black envelope inside of which there were also some postcards of the books illustrations, a poster and a DVD of some animated illustrations. As I said, quite a push. Which had me a bit suspicious. After reading the two page WARNING which prefaces the book I was out and out worried.

'A vision of the world that will alarm the majority, revolt the sensitive and obliterate the prudish', we will apparently be 'shocked, disgusted, horrified that such ideas are allowed in print' in a book which 'makes fun of our society in a way that will delight teenagers while disturbing everybody else'. Right; where to begin. Firstly, I hate being told how I am going to feel. Whilst the book is being pitched, or rather flogged, as a satire of modern times and therefore I am sure I'm supposed to take the warning with a pinch of salt, it strikes a rather bum note to start off with. Palumbo's targets are perilously close I suspect to the very people who have made him a wealthy man (well, wealthier) which seems a very strange perspective to be writing satire from. Women with surgically enhanced breasts so large they have to be carried on zimmer-like frames are a relatively funny image for a second but the rest of the procession of grotesques barely raised a smile. The problem with satirising our media culture of celebrity, sex, footballers and reality-TV nonsense, is that they have all come dangerously close to self-parody already. In order to try and invent a new reality TV format that will shock, disgust and horrify us, Palumbo has to lump the ones we know together and resort (as he often does in this book) to the scatalogical.

Underneath the story of Tomas, a reality TV star sent mad and murderous, and his journey to become a new Messiah battling against the Great Bear of Russia is the serious message of course and the only problem with the sections of the book that present it are that after all the gunfire, sadism and hallucinatory imagery they're frankly a bit dull. I didn't really like it, can you tell? I shouldn't be surprised though, I had been warned and I'm not a teenager so was never going to be delighted. My real worry is the distinct lack of genuine satire in recent times. The long tail of the modern culture combined with the increasing banality of mainstream entertainment means that the targets are satirising themselves. As the poster on the tube asks: 'What do morons eating live bugs in the jungle create? Other morons.' If you didn't know that already then prepare to be shocked, disgusted and...oh, you get the idea.


John Self 24 August 2009 at 14:29  

Always beware of books being sold on their 'controversial' qualities - it usually suggests that they don't have any other qualities. Loosely related to this is my irritation when the media present The Da Vinci Code as being disliked only because of its 'controversial' theories about Jesus etc. Really the only thing to dislike about Brown is his lack of talent as a writer.

And so on.

William Rycroft 24 August 2009 at 22:59  

I loved that thing about The Da Vinci Code being the most common book donated to charity shops. Not one to keep and pass down through the generations then. I say this without having read a word of his of course. Beware the author who thinks his audience so ignorant that he needs to remind them that the Louvre is in Paris.

William Arveschoug,  28 September 2009 at 16:21  

If the da vinci code is most common book donated that is a sign of the amount of copies it has sold. It would need to be books donated to charity shops as a percentage of the total books sold to give an accurate representation. I would be surprised if the amount would be disproportionate to any other contemporary work of fiction. Be careful of glancing at headlines.

William Rycroft 29 September 2009 at 00:42  

I see what you're saying William but I think the point isn't so much to do with numbers than with the disposability of the book. It doesn't seem to be much of a 'keeper'.

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