Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Lost Wordy Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

Alright so ‘lost’ might be a bit inaccurate here as it’s more of a buzz word used to make bullshit sound interesting, also known as the JJ Abrams method of entertainment marketing. Actually the reason I never posted my original ACoD review is that I didn’t have any strong feeling about the book one way or the other, so instead of being Johnnie Fencesitter and posting a half-hearted review I opted instead to remain silent but at the last SDBC meeting my co-conspirators told me they were actually disappointed I never posted anything so I decided to listen to the wants of the people and heroically recycle some unused material.

So, A Confederacy of Dunces, or, to call it by its full title:

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

Jonathan Swift

which serves as the books opening line and is probably the personal motto of every self righteous dick on the planet. Maybe it’s just me but opening with a line like that feels a bit like putting on criticism Kevlar, as if the book itself is suggesting that if you don’t like it you’re perfectly welcome to don a pointy ‘D’ hat and sit with the other conspirators, sniffing glue while your intellectual superiors enjoy some crumpets and smug.
That’s not to say that the book is bad, if it was bad I’d have lots to say about it because there’s nothing quite like stomping all over something you don’t like to make you feel like a real man these days, it just that going in with that quote over the door feels like we might end up with an Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.

As I said before, the reason I abandoned the original review was that I really had no feeling to express over ACoD. It’s like that time someone broke into my house and made me eat ice cream sandwiches at gunpoint; certainly not a bad experience, all things considered, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I usually get a vibe about a book at the halfway point but like two equally obese children on a reinforced seesaw my feelings were pretty level throughout on this one.

For the uninitiated ACoD follows one Ignatius J Riley, a fat, flatulent, outspoken twat who idealises the Roman philosopher Boethius while hypocritically enjoying the many indulgences of the modern world. Reading it reminded me of Cather in the Rye or The Fan Man in that all three follow days in the life of some guy doing stuff. Ignatius and his idealistic if not entirely misguided sense of justice embark on adventures to hold down a job, insight a workers revolt, bring about the homosexual pacification of the world and show up his ex-girlfriend, all to varying degrees of failure.

And that’s really all I’ve got to say on ACoD, it’s a guy doing stuff, some occasionally interesting stuff but not the kind of stuff I’d call a plot line. If anything the actual plot happens incidentally which might be the point but if so I’m not sure what that point is. I would say that Ignatius is meant to be a hyperbolic exaggeration of all the worst human behaviours we all exhibit every day, even if only internally. He’s judgemental, selfish, self-aggrandising, self-pitying and I would privately identify with that that if not for the part where he repeatedly talks during a movie, a behaviour that makes me want to drag the offender outside and curb stomp them till their head resembles Pacman after eating too much raspberry jam.
So he’s the sort of protagonist you’re not supposed to like but with an undercurrent of tragedy, a man mismatched with his time and place, highlighting its comedy elements which are less the directly ha-ha kind of comedy and more the type you have to picture it to get the joke of the fat man with a hotdog cart poking people with a plastic sword and wh-

-hold on, I think I just formed an opinion.

While endeavouring to understand why this book is so beloved I wandered out into Google and began reading other peoples reviews and while some are clearly being written by people gobbing down mouthfuls of smug and crumpets while commenting on how wonderfully dressed the Emperor is today, others more earnestly discussed how the book was “a hilariously cringe-worthy story” and that “a more pompous, ungrateful, obnoxious windbag is hard to imagine, yet Ignatius captivates partly because he IS so appalling.” And you know what, maybe there’s a generation gap thing here that can explain my indifference. Since its release in 1980 pop culture has seen more cringe-worthy, appalling, pompous, ungrateful, obnoxious windbags rise to fame and fortune that the idea of a story featuring one being a source of comedy is now almost quaint. Perhaps what was once unique in Ignatius as a protagonist is lost in the drone of Kardashians, Hiltons, Real Housewives, Jersey Shore’s, Bill O’reillys, and Honey Boo Boo’s who’s selfish obnoxious idiocy has swallowed the context what was once a gleaming comedy of an intelligent, openly opinionated and vial man in a green cap set at odds with what is seen as acceptable by a bankrupt and unremarkable world. Perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to the idea of a cringe inducing protagonist and thus the comedy is lost because it’s no longer packs the outrageous plight that made it funny.

Sure it’s entirely possible that I’m talking out of my perfectly toned and sculpted butt here but even if that’s the case at least I have an opinion of the book now and I think it’s a positive one, even if it does boil down to the notion that someone from Gen Y down isn’t going to really get the comedy here. I didn’t find ACoD anywhere near as laugh out loud funny as many have claimed that it is but if I’m running with my generation gap theory (and I am, because I just came up with it and it hasn’t grown legs yet) then that makes perfect sense. Everything else works; the characters are good, their arcs are unique, the writing is solid and the feature city of New Orleans is faithfully depicted, even containing an in-joke about a river. If I find Ignatius unengaging even as an appalling tragic it may just be that I’ve seen his ilk too often and lack the context of his outrageousness to find his adventures cringingly hilarious, which I’m actually a little bit sad about because it means that my ability to be amused by the antics of the absurd has been dulled by the Rosie O’Donnell’s of this world. At any rate I now hold a better opinion of the book than when I started writing and would recommend ACoD if you’re old enough to have voted Keating out of office and saw the original RoboCop in theatres.

And maybe that can stand as author John Kennedy Toole’s posthumous joke, that when Ignatius is no longer a comic foil then perhaps the dunces have won, which is fine by me because I rather like the smell of glue.

Written by

A Hyperlink to the Past
B.T. Calloway


Wordy Review: Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

Well here we are, another month another book about prostitutes, I’m not sure whether it’s my cohorts or modern literature in general that seems to be working through some repression but someone certainly has a raging hard on, or a raging wet on in the case of Eleanor Catton. OK, A Confederacy of Dunces had strippers and pornographers which isn’t the same thing but they still catch the same metaphorical bus to work. Anyway, this month’s hooker du jour is Maria, a 22 year old girl from Brazil working as a prostitute in Switzerland who meets a painter who might just be her true love, something she thought impossible for her ever since missing an opportunity for love in primary school, because clearly that’s a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.

Firstly I’d like to say that I like how Maria is a prostitute by choice. Ok, she comes to Switzerland under false pretences but she then gets into prostitution of her own free will. There’s something to be said about the western perception that a prostitute got to where she is either via oppression, addiction or desperation, even here in Australia where it’s totally legal and pimp-slap free there’s the negative stigma and assumption of substance abuse and/or exploitation so it’s genuinely refreshing to see a character selling herself because it beats the hell out of working at McDonalds, add your own corporate whore joke here. Similarly the painter Ralf Hart isn’t the penniless artist with the heart of diamond in the rough we’ve seen a thousand times before but rather an already successful and wealthy man, triggering that other western reaction of instantly disliking the rich. As misspelled as he may be, Ralf Hart (surname symbolic of something I’m sure) really is the perfect embodiment of this book for me because I constantly switched between quite liking the book and really wanting to punch it in the face.

It started with the few sticking points I have with our protagonist, Maria, who early on dreams of finding her true love one moment then mere sentences later swoons over the idea of marrying someone because he’s rich and if he could make her famous in the process that would be ever so lovely, but I could at least get one foot on board with this as, once again, western movies, books and general sensibilities have repeatedly taught us that ‘All You Need is Love’ even when ‘All You Need is Financial Security Because You’re Living Just Over the Poverty Line’ is equally as valid, it’s just not as catchy. As mentioned she chooses a life of prostitution then laments that it’s diminishing her soooouuuul even though she can stop at any time, especially after amassing a decent fortune which tended to switch my brain to ‘punch book’ mode. But then there’d be a clever line or a good passage about the nature of love and sexual desire and I’d find myself back on board the SS Eleven Minutes again.

Then our leading man Ralf gets introduced as a man feeling empty despite all his wealth and handsomeness which certainly added some weight back to the punching side of things; “Woe this gilded cage made of naked women, money, youth, success and artistic freedom, truly I know why the caged bird sings” and yet I get that the book is going for the whole ‘when you have everything what do you need?’ bit so I got back on board again, toot-toot. It seemed like every time I found a deal breaker there’d be some element that would draw me back in. Ralf bangs on about how Maria has a ‘special light’, one that isn’t red and hanging over her letting all the boys know she’s clocked on for the night and this was saccharin enough to send my eyes rolling but then Maria meets another bloke, a client who introduces her to sadomasochism which she starts to get into and things look like they might be getting a bit duality of human nature on us, the light of her soul and her darkness of desire battling for her control like a version of Platoon with less assault rifles more whips but then that gets thrown out almost immediately in a big chunk of exposition which works ok but takes away what I thought was going to be an interesting plot thread. That’s the other thing too, every character talks in total exposition, leaving no ambiguity or the sense that Maria might be doing the wrong thing or listening to the wrong people. Instead it’s just here’s what she’s doing and here’s exactly why, please don’t question or apply your own values, this is Paulo Coelho’s guide to sex and he’s not taking any questions damn it.

After all that things end a bit meh for me. I won’t spoil it but to hear my opinion live first inflate a balloon then let the air out while half pinching the end so that it makes a long fart sound and that’s pretty much it. It’s not necessarily bad just done without any real sense of weight and sort of undermines itself and just a bit pppppfffffffffttttbbtttbbbbffptt.

So in the end did I actually like the book? Well, sort of, I’d be up for reading another Coelho book if that’s any guide. It’s simple writing and form presents some interesting ideas even if they are brought to our attention by characters saying exactly what’s going on or by direct prose. The story itself is pretty good but I can’t escape the feeling that there were so many other, more interesting places it could have gone, somewhere more complex and ambiguous and interesting rather than what amounts to almost a sermon on sexuality. There’s a section devoted to the history of societies recognition of the clitoris that reads like an unusually explicit Liddle fact rather than the character revelation it’s meant to be. What’s there is good but it feels like we’re blitzing past various avenues that could have lead to more interesting side stories or character moments just to get to the balloon fart ending. It’s like being given an excellent entrée and soup before being informed that there is no main course and before being served a cream covered balloon for dessert.

Written by B.T. Calloway, author of ‘The Curious Case of Eleanor Catton and the Raging Wet On’ (now banned)

Eleven Minutes Recommended Drinking List


20 ml. of Malibu
20 ml. banana cream
20 ml. Grand Marnier
60 ml. pineapple juice
30 ml. coconut cream

Shake, strain, serve.

NOT recommended: this version
1 3/4 oz cachaca
3/4 oz chocolate syrup
3/4 oz pineapple juice
1 1/2 oz papaya juice
3/4 oz cream

Fruit Juice Cocktail (alcohol free in the book, add white rum/vodka/cachaca as you see fit)

1 oz orange juice
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz passion-fruit juice
1 oz mango juice
1 oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz kiwi syrup