Tag: Juvenalian satire

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

Posted November 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Humour / 4 Comments

Look Who’s Back by Timur VermesTitle: Look Who’s Back (Goodreads)
Author: Timur Vermes
Translator: Jamie Bulloch
Published: MacLehose Press, 2012
Pages: 375
Genres: Humour
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Adolf Hitler wakes up in the summer of 2011, lying on a patch of open ground in Berlin. However this isn’t the Germany he remembers; he calls over a nearby group of Hitler Youth but they appear to be unhelpful. He quickly discovers he is no longer the chancellor of the German Reich, in fact Angela Merkel held that role. The Kanzlei des Führers was no more and his home, The Reich Chancellery was no longer liveable. For the rest of Germany, Hitler was just a method actor who refused to break character.

Er ist wieder da (English title Look Who’s Back) is Timur Vermes first novel after working as a ghostwriter. The book is a biting satire of what might happen if Adolf Hitler was alive in the 21st Century. Of course, if he we was alive today he would be on television, spitting his ideology to the influential masses. While many thought of him as a method actor and a comedian, the novel centres on a return to power and politics with his lack of political correctness.

Interestingly enough Look Who’s Back plays on the ideas around satire; while most people within the novel believe Adolf Hitler is just a satirist, the whole notion is that there is a fine line between satire and venomous ideology. One thing I found particularly interesting within the novel is the way Timur Vermes plays with the idea that satire is meant to be funny and I want to stop and give these people a lesson on the differences between Horatian and Juvenalian satire. There are a lot of comedic values within Look Who’s Back (Horatian satire) however the satire within the novel was Juvenalian.

The way Hitler was portrayed within the book, kept reminding me of Bruno Ganz’s performance in Downfall for some weird reason.  While Vermes put a lot of effort and thought into how Hitler would react to a modern Germany, this book soon became a one trick pony. The different scenarios Hitler found himself in started off as humorous but soon the jokes got a little old. Despite this fact, I have to be impressed with the amount of thought that went into the ideas Hitler would have towards Germany today.

I do however suspect there is something lost on a reader who doesn’t live within Germany. While there is a lot of entertainment to be had with the novel the subject matter wouldn’t have the same effect. The fact remains that Adolf Hitler was very damaging to Germany and the subject matter would remain a controversial topic. While Timur Vermes depicted Hitler as a man (rather than a monster) in an effort to examine how National Socialism rose to power, Germany remains wary of the effects of this ideology. Hitler’s ideas towards Judaism and immigration have left a bad taste in the mouth of every German person and the results have led to an overly politically correct society. The damage is still visible, but despite the controversial nature of Look Who’s Back, the book sold over 1.4 million copies within Germany and has been translated into twenty eight languages (Jamie Bulloch being the English translator).

I found myself getting a little bored by the jokes within this novel and the moral message was easily recognisable half way through. While there is plenty of interesting ideas within Look Who’s Back, I believe this book might have been more enjoyable if it was cut down about half its size. Hitler comes across as an uncompromising, charismatic but deeply flawed human and while this is needed for this story, it is hard not to see him as anything but a monster.


I read this book for German Literature Month

Monthly Review – July 2013

Posted July 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

This month we looked at the satirical novel and read Kurt Vonnegut’s modern classic Cat’s Cradle. This was a lot of fun for me; even though I’ve read the novel, I’m becoming a big fan of Juvenalian satire. While it might have been a little difficult for others, it is always great to go out of our comfort zones and read something great. Next month we are dipping into some non-fiction when we read Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway, considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting.

My wife has been away for almost three weeks and in that time I thought I might have gotten a lot of reading done, but sadly this was not the case. I’ve done pretty well for myself but nothing amazing, it seems like a regular month for me; reading wise. The biggest highlight for the month would have to be A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra but I did hit rock bottom as well and read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I would love to know what your highlights or lowlights of the month were and even what you read this month.

My Monthly Reading

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Posted July 15, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Tampa by Alissa NuttingTitle: Tampa (Goodreads)
Author: Alissa Nutting
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2013
Pages: 272
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley, ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Suburban middle grade teacher Celeste Prices is undeniably beautiful, everyone can see that. Her husband is rich, hardworking, determined and most people think they are the perfect couple. That’s because no one knows Celesta’s secret, her singular sexual obsession for fourteen year old boys. After all this is the real reason she became a teacher and is working at Jefferson Jr. High.

There are three main reasons people will try to avoid this book. Firstly the protagonist is not likeable, how could she be? Secondly, the sad truth is I found a lot of people tend to avoid Juvenalian satire; I’m not entirely sure why but maybe they don’t appreciate it or they forget to remember it is not an indication of the satirist persona. Lastly and probably most importantly, this book is disturbing; probably the most disconcerting book I’ve ever read (American Psycho held this place for a long time) and I found myself having to put it down just to recover.

So why read it? Tampa is a well written debut novel and arguably one of the most talked about novels at the moment. The reason it’s talked about is the subject it satirises; let’s face it, this is a topic that is often never talked about because of its disturbing nature. A female sexual predator is something I’ve never read in a book but this seems to works in Alissa Nutting’s favour. I have to take a moment to talk about the subject matter because this is important. Young teenage boys all seem to have similar fantasies; an older woman, normally a teacher or a babysitter. It’s a common sexual desire for a boy with their budding sexuality; the experienced, already developed older woman, but they don’t realise just how destructive that can be on them. They have no idea how to separate their emotions from the sexual act and this is a slippery slope that can only lead to being hurt. Not to mention the emotional and psychological damage it can do to them.

Then you have the discussion of sexual addiction being covered in this novel as well. Celeste Prices acts with sociopathic meticulousness; lying and manipulating everyone in order to get what she desires. Not just the people around her; she deludes herself as well, always trying to justify her actions. I think it was interesting how Alissa Nutting was able to look at the problems with this fantasy young boys have and how damaging it can be and at the same time have the reader think about sex addiction and how it effects the person.

Tampa is written in the first person perspective of Celeste Prices so as a reader we get to see her trying to justify her actions to herself and the reader. Though as the reader we can see how off her justification is and maybe even remember times in our own life were we have tried justifying making stupid mistakes with similar lies. The thoughts and the desire that Celeste has to the fourteen year old boys is disgusting and are sure to make you feel sick, which is the reason I couldn’t read this book in one sitting.

In fact every time I put down the book, I worried that if I showed my wife any sort of affection that she might get the wrong idea. I found out later that she was worried that if she showed any affection, I might associate it with the book. So I’m glad it was short and I didn’t have to spend too much time reading it. I’m sure my poor wife got sick of me wanting to discuss this subject matter with her, it’s not an easy topic but this novel makes you want to talk about it with someone. She tells me a similar thing happened in Glee where one of the teenage boys was molested by his babysitter when he was young and his classmates thought it wasn’t that bad as it’s every boy’s fantasy.

The fact that you can’t help wanting to talk about this novel and the themes would make this book the perfect choice for a book club which scares me a lot. I hope and pray that this never becomes the next book club book at my local book club. I love the Mary Who? Book club and this is the best indie bookstore in Townsville but I am normally the only male and most of the other people are slightly older than me. This would be the most awkward book to discuss and because I have so much I can say about this novel it would feel really weird, so I hope that it never becomes the next pick for book club.

This has been compared to Lolita and I can see why, the sexual predator and the satirical nature, but personally I think this comparison might do more harm than good.  Being compared to a masterpiece like Lolita would put so much pressure on this book and I don’t think it lives up to the beauty of Vladimir Nabokov’s writing. I get why it is compared but I think it tackles different topics and they both should be analysed separately. Having said that it might be a good book to partner with Lolita if your book club has that kind of structure set up.

Lastly I want to quickly talk about the covers because I think they are worth mentioning. In the UK and Australasia the cover is a pink shirt with a button hole. I love this cover, it is very suggestive and makes people look twice and it really suits the book. Apparently, in America, the black cover that  I thought looked boring in comparison, is made from black velvet, which might give the same suggestive tones when you pick up the book rather than looking at it. Interesting choices and I think both seem to work really well but I prefer the buttonhole cover.

I should warn people that this book contains graphical sex scenes which are ghastly and off putting, so this book is never going to be an easy read but this is a topic that needs to be discussed more and the book does this really well. I really enjoyed having read this book, but not really while reading it. I’m surprised how much I wanted to talk about the subject, so I think Alissa Nutting achieved what she set out to achieve. I hope people read it soon; I look forward to discussing the book with others.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Posted June 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 5 Comments

Naked Lunch by William S. BurroughsTitle: Naked Lunch (Goodreads)
Author: William S. Burroughs
Published: Grove Press, 1959
Pages: 289
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In a complex and disturbing string of events, William Lee finds himself fleeing from the police. While on the run, this drug addict finds himself journeying across the United States and into Mexico. His travels lead him into the underground world of both drug and homosexual culture. The coun
ter story revolves around the use of mind control by the government and psychiatrists to manipulate and direct the public.

Considered one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is a bizarre cut up narrative protesting the death penalty. You got that the book was trying to do that from the synopsis right? Naked Lunch is a non-linear narrative that does make it really difficult to summarise the plot. Burroughs is famously known for his cut-up narrative; which is a literary technique that can be traced back to the Dadaists in the 1920s. For more information about Burroughs and cut-up check out my post called William S. Burroughs & Surrealist Writing Methods.

The book looks into two key groups; the drug and homosexual subcultures. The two unite early in the novel by the narrator but are never mutually exclusive. At the start of the book William Lee believes he will be punished more harshly for his involvement in homosexual activities than using and selling illegal drugs, which is really sad to think that people are being still victimised over their sexuality and drugs have just become socially acceptable.

Then the subplot largely focuses on the way in which psychotherapy combines with the government to institute mind control. Dr Benway experiments on ways to manipulate the minds of his patients in order to further his research. With no ethical consideration, he often changes his patient’s sexual identity and then tries to cure them. He also creates a mental controlling device for the towns as a way to use the population for his sadistic experiments and put them through psychological torture. Many of these experimental towns are based on the utopian idea and Burroughs like to explore the problems with the idea in a rather sinister way.

So how is this novel a protest to the death penalty? Well that would be in the same way Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal ideals with economics. William S. Burroughs uses Juvenalian satire to highlight the barbaric, disgusting and anachronism of capital punishment. While the sex in Naked Lunch can be considered as mutual satisfaction sometimes, it is also used as a metaphor (especially in the more violent sexual acts) for defeating an enemy, self serving idol worshipping and capital punishment. The results of these metaphors are often confusing, shocking, taboo and sickening. Sex is a powerful tool with this novel and while it does look at sex and relationships in a positive way (rarely), the majority is used to symbolise the dark and cynical themes within the book.

William Lee is obviously William S. Burroughs alter ego and the book can be read as a semi-autobiographical novel through a serious drug addiction but like Infinite Jest there is so much more going on. This book did remind me a lot of Infinite Jest; not just with how it dealt with drug addiction but the way it used very dark themes to look at other social issues. William S. Burroughs had a similar experience to the narrator, taking trips around the world in order to avoid being arrested. Even the addition and sexual experimentation is similar to the authors own experiences, as part of his attempts to separate himself from mainstream culture. William S. Burroughs is a fascinating man and I’m interested to learn/blog more about him.

I’m not sure what the difference between the original and restored text but I did read the restored edition. While this was a really weird and somewhat difficult book to get though there is so many interesting themes to explore that I feel very satisfied by completing this novel. It is disturbing and some of it will make you feel sick to your stomach and I can understand why people hate this book. This is a really intense novel that will drain you emotionally and mentally. The book is full of violent and graphic sex, so it will never be for everyone but I can see why it is an important novel, not just because of the obscenity trial but also for all the themes.

I’ve not read many Beat novels in my life, I think On the Road was the only other one but I do like the gritty and surreal approach both books take. I’m not sure if this is a major theme for all beat novels but if so, I will have to read more. I doubt I’ll ever return to Naked Lunch simply because of how disturbing some of the scenes are but I know I can be completely satisfied with having read this one and judging by this review, I can also take comfort in the fact I was able to pick it apart and understand some of the themes.