Christopher Buckley’s latest irreverent satire tackles US-China relations. As a master humorist and satirist Buckley weaves various convoluted plot threads into a fast-paced story. However, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? lacks the literally laugh-out-loud moments I’ve grown accustomed to from reading his previous works.
Protagonist “Bird” McIntyre is charged with fomenting anti-Chinese feelings in America by his boss in order to prepare the country for the unveiling of their super top-secret project Taurus. To help him, Bird enlists Angel Templeton, a stunning woman and the intimidating “directrix” for the Institute for Continuing Conflict. Their close proximity while plotting media manipulation—and Dalai Lama assassination—leads to a steamy extramarital affair. With his marriage and his job on the line, Bird must learn how to balance all these elements in his life that have slowly begun to grow awry.
The perspective jumps around to other key players like the leaders of China (who have purposefully confusing monosyllabic names—Fa, Lo, Han) and NSC director Rogers P Fancock. The sheer number of characters at times feels more congested than a Dickens novel—and the names are equally absurd—but there is a flow to the storytelling that makes it all bearable and interesting.
This is definitely one of Buckley’s weaker novels; but, even at his weakest, he’s still a more superb writer and humorist than so many other authors. His excessively astute vocabulary makes even the drollest of characters seem ironically intelligent, and the best part is that he manages to make it work well. If you’re looking to jump into the Buckley oeuvre then start with some of his sharper books—Thank You For Smoking, No Way to Treat a First Lady, Florence of Arabia—before tackling this book; but if Buckley is old hat for you, then this Asian outing will be a nice reminder of Buckley’s skills.
Posted by xoxojk on June 11, 2012
Jonathan Coe’s satirical British novel What a Carve Up! (or The Winshaw Legacy in America) is both hilarious and touching in the way that only a postmodernist novel could be. The historical context of the novel deals with the political and social climate in Britain during the 1980s and early 90s as it builds to the Gulf War in Iraq. We learn of these developments through the point of view of our protagonist Michael Owen and the infamous Winshaw family.
Michael is tasked with writing an epic historical book chronicling the Winshaw family with a specific focus on all the terrible deeds they have done. Coe uses the current generation of Winshaws to stand in for the most basic of societal constructs (Politics, Finance, Media, Military, Art, and Agriculture) and explores their influence on British society and on Michael’s own personal life.
But the novel is more than just a scathing look at Britain’s society. Coe also incorporates great humor through his homage to the campy murder mystery genre. When Michael sees the film What a Carve Up! (an actual 1961 film) on his birthday, his life is forever changed. The movie consists of a family gathering at a creepy, old family home for the reading of a will. But when Agatha Christie-style murders begin occurring, everyone is put on edge.
The absurdities that occur in that genre of film come alive in the Winshaw family where a sister accuses her brother of secretly killing her other brother and gets locked away in an asylum in the process. Other secrets are kept family members and as Michael becomes to uncover them his own life is put in danger.
The complexities of the story become even more tangled before the reader can truly untangle them all, but there are enough answers given throughout the book to prevent the reader from getting frustrated with the mysteries. Coe’s style of writing is quick-witted and was very enjoyable to read. I found myself laughing throughout the novel, and the intrigue he provided kept me reading it for hours at a time. Think of the novel as a blend of Clue and Brideshead Revisited and you’ll have some idea of the tone and scope. This book is about so much and has so many subtle complexities that it would take at least a 10-page term paper to explore everything satisfactorily. But if anything I’ve written about in the last few paragraphs seems interesting to you then I definitely recommend this book (you won’t be disappointed).
Posted by xoxojk on April 19, 2012