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Grammath

The Bonfire of the Vanities

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After more than 20 years as a journalist and essayist, in 1987 Tom Wolfe debuted as a novelist with this splendid satire of 1980s New York life. Until "American Psycho" came along, it was the definitive word on the subject.

 

Sherman McCoy is a self-styled Master of the Universe, a rich young Wall Street whizzkid. Driving home with his mistress, they become lost in The Bronx and accidentally run over a black kid. They don't stop to check how he is. The novel documents the unravelling of Sherman's life in the aftermath of the event.

 

Wolfe clearly fancied himself as a Dickens of '80s New York. In this novel, he tries to capture society from the lowest to the highest, the machinations of a sometimes absurd law machine and hold up a mirror to his contemporary city in characters such as black activist Reverend Bacon, based on the larger than life preacher Reverend Al Sharpton and journalist Peter Fallow, widely assumed to be a thinly disguised portrait of Christopher Hitchens.

 

It is getting on for 20 years since I read it, but I remember I absolutely loved it. Part of me wonders how it has aged, but at the time it seemed smart, savage and stylish.

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It is getting on for 20 years since I read it, but I remember I absolutely loved it. Part of me wonders how it has aged, but at the time it seemed smart, savage and stylish.

It's not far off 20 years since I read it, too, and I agree that it seemed smart, savage and stylish - which were attributes I neither had, nor admired. I loathed it and have never wanted to reread it, nor try any other GAN since.

It certainly made an impression on me, which I suppose says something about it.

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I read it not too long ago and loved it, though that might have been partly because I was dreading it so much! (due to the length) In the end it was a really quick read because Wolfe makes everything so larger than life and entertaining to read (and full of repetitions so you can skip the odd line!). I still think sometimes of lemon tarts and social X-rays when I see people in the street!

 

Megustaleer, what's GAN? And don't be so hard on yourself, you seem pretty smart to me!

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Megustaleer, what's GAN?

Great American Novel - BotV is supposed to be one, isn't it?
And don't be so hard on yourself, you seem pretty smart to me!
You shouldn't jump to conclusions, folks aren't always what they seem online ;)

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Read this in in college, have in fact read a great deal of Tom Wolf's work, and while this is probably the best known, due to the film, it is hardly the best.

Wolfe seems preoccupied with racial favoritism, going back to his 60's writing, and while his points are incisive and carry justice, I wonder if he isn't a tad defensive for a Southern white gentleman (get a load of his suits!)

Still, one of the finest writers of the day.

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Hi, I'm a newbie here :wavey:

 

I'm doing my dissertation on Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities and what struck me when reading it is just how unlikeable all the characters are. It was a reasonably easy read and enjoyable to an extent, but I didn't find myself liking any of the characters (maybe the exception being Peter Fallow, but maybe that's the Britishness in me :D) never mind falling in love with one of them which is my habit when reading books. Really there's not one that I can say got my sympathy vote in the entire novel, and that's no mean feat in a novel with over 700 pages.

 

I don't know, it might be the satirical element in it, but it gave me a very bleak outlook on human nature, but then maybe that's what Wolfe intended.

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aspiringauthor, I'm about 90% of the way through a re-read of Bonfire and I agree. They all come across as intensely unlikeable characters. The guy who did the grunt work for the lawyer maybe was OK, and the dog of course! Though even he didn't help Sherman with his squirming and leash avoiding. Bad dog!

 

I never noticed it the first time round, and now you've got me wondering whether that was Wolfe's intention.

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I haven't read this novel but did A Man in Full it seems that a lot of Wolfe's writing is a work of satire. As for the book I read this is what I thought.

 

The author narrates in this novel a myriad of details and social observations. Wolfe exposes pretension, hypocrisy, malice, greed and vices on top of the dynamism of contemporary life. This novel is a work of satire, utterly dark and brutal with moments of humour and complex emotions. I was immediately grabbed by the fabulous characters Wolfe introduced and the plot revolving around them, I could hardly put the book down.

 

I could guess Wolfe is an other author you like or dislike.

 

 

Side note: is the protocol for sharing an opinion on a book limits you to the book mentioned or is it accepted to talk about other novels written by the author? Like I just did or preferable to open an other thread?

 

 

 

:confused:

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Side note: is the protocol for sharing an opinion on a book limits you to the book mentioned or is it accepted to talk about other novels written by the author? Like I just did or preferable to open an other thread?

Really, it is up to you or how the discussion progresses. If you have just a comment or 2 on another book then it's fine to put it in the other book thread. If it develops into a long discussion then a mod will probably create a new thread. If you would like to start a discussion on the alternative book then it's probably best to open a new thread (if there isn't one already).

 

No hard and fast rules, Tiger.

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I've read "A Man in Full" as well. Whilst I did enjoy it, thematically it did feel like something of a re-run of "BotV", dealing as it did with the downfall of someone rich and successful. It moved the action from NYC to the South, allowing Wolfe to take potshots at a whole new set of targets. In addition, unlike "BotV", I really did notice how long "A Man in Full" was - 700+ pages.

 

"I Am Charlotte Simmons", his most recent novel, is on my TBR mountain and I want to get around to reading some of his journalism too.

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I have never read The Bonfire of the Vanities, but I did try Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho, once recommended to me by a student.

 

Wolfe has been hailed as the American Dickens; he asserts that too few novelists are interested in 'the metropolis or any other big, rich slices of American life.' For me, Anne Tyler and John Updike, to name but two, give at least modestly realistic slices of American life. I doubt whether I'll ever pick up The Bonfire, after reading James Wood's article:' Tom Wolfe's Shallowness and The Trouble with Information.' Wood, a gold standard critic for me, declares:

 

Tom Wolfe's novels are placards of simplicity. His characters are capable of experiencing only one feeling at a time: they are advertisements for the self: Greed! Fear! Hate! Love! Misery! The people who phosphoresce [sic] thus are nothing like real people. They are instead big, vivid blots of typology: The Overweening Property Developer! His Divorced First Wife! His Sexy Young Trophy Wife! The Well-Dressed Black Lawyer Who Speaks Too White! The Oafish Football Player! They race through huge, twisted plots, their adventures hammered out in a banging and brassy prose.

 

Although Dickens has been accused of presenting the reader with 'a gallery of types', he attempts to get below the surface, to trace thought process and the subtleties of motive. Moreover, his fictional world contains not only the twisted and corrupt, but the kindly and sympathetic. He doesn't shout, but paints delicate portraits. Wolfe, it would seem, paints by numbers and in garish colour.

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Wolfe has been hailed as the American Dickens

 

Bonfire of the Vanities is in my opinion one of the Great American Novels and a fantastic read that truly deserves its entry in the canon of English literature. As a person who nevertheless finds it difficult to read Amercian literature, I never cease recommending it to people.

 

But because Bonfire of the Vanities is Dickensian (which I agree on) - this doesn't make Wolfe the American Dickens.

 

From your post, I'd say we're in agreement.

 

 

Phoebus

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Another of these books that I've read but little of it remains in my small brain :)

 

I don't remember thinking Dickens when I was reading it but agree with an earlier comment about lack of characters to like, none of them would win a popularity contest unless the judges were all sycophants!

 

I did buy A Man in Full (languishing in my TBR list) so that's a sign that I liked his writing enough to give him another go.

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