Friday, 4 March 2011

Whales and a Wolf

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Bonfire of the vanities is a satire in which Tom Wolfe introduces the reader to a handful of quite dislikeable characters and then proceeds to throw their lives into turmoil. Set in the most affluent circles of New York in the late eighties it highlights all the selfish greed, and lack of morality that my own memory associates with that decade, (in fact a very similar decade to the one we have just left behind). In fact I think its fair to say that this book couldn't have been set in any other place but New York.

At the beginning of the story the protagonists mostly lead completely separate lives but fate sees their paths crossing. The central character is a Wall street hot shot living the life of virtual royalty in the highest social circles of New York. Other characters include Police, lawyers, religious leaders, writers and hustlers. As the story goes on the reader finds themselves liking some characters a little more but in general we like them a whole lot less as their worlds change forever. For some, life collapses around them, for others fate offers them a 'leg up'. All the protagonists would have done well to remember that “pride comes before a fall”.

As a comment on the nasty capitalist eighties I found this book worked but as a satire it failed to make me laugh. The fact that none of the central characters are the slightest bit endearing means the reader just doesn't care enough to keep turning those pages. Towards the end I was counting the pages and thinking 'how much longer is this going to drag on?'

Might appeal to some but not me.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

There can't be a single person alive who doesn't know that this book tells the story of Captain Ahab's quest to hunt down and kill the white Whale but how many people have ever read it? I have's bloody hard work!

I've heard 'Moby Dick' described as a classic and there is a great story in there that's for sure, but one has to wade through pages and pages describing the technical details of seamanship and killing Whales. This may be of interest to some but not me. In my opinion (which is worth precisely sweet FA), Moby Dick would have benefited from a good healthy edit, remove Melville's semi-auto biographical nautical crap and just stick to the story of a man's obsession with catching a very large sea creature. As a lifelong angler I can certainly relate to that.

Moby Dick has a great story in there, without a doubt but all the other stuff spoils it. Whenever I think of 'Ahab' I see Gregory Peck from the classic film in my minds eye. It's a very good film.

For once, ignore the book and stick to the film.

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