Patrick Gibson's Reviews > The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
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May 09, 11

bookshelves: contemporary-literature
Read in May, 2011

Is this not one of the best tiles ever?

If you want a real thrill read it in Russian.

Okay, I can’t read Russian—but it felt like a cool thing to say.

This is one of the few books, on my short list, which has caused me to laugh out loud—like Catch-22 and Breakfast of Champions. Another funny, intelligent satire of the 20th century. I will admit that I laughed the most loudly at the obvious, although well-set-up punch lines. However, the real joy of reading this book is not the trip-and-fall jokes, but rather the wry, dry, witty, and acid-tongued descriptions, characterizations, and prose which Wolfe fills his pages.

Wolfe is a little bit pretentious (a LITTLE?), a little bit obnoxious (a LITTLE?), and very funny (okay, I’ll give myself that). It is not racist to make fun of blacks if you make fun of WASPs, Jews, the British, men, women, and just about every other possible demographic group known to man.

A telling sign of a wildly overambitious novel is one who's ending has difficulty wrapping up the exploits of all of the main characters without feeling contrived or forced. Unfortunately, this is where ‘Bonfires’ fails. But for over 600 pages, it is a knee-slapping, belly laughing, observation-deck yawp of a novel, and a whale of a good read.
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message 1: by Jak (new)

Jak "It is not racist to make fun of blacks if you make fun of WASPs, Jews, the British, men, women, and just about every other possible demographic group known to man."

I disagree with you there Patrick. If you make a sandwich with turkey, ham, chicken, beef, cheese, pastrami, peanut butter, jelly, pickle etc etc. The turkey is still turkey and is not changed by the other ingredients. Similarly racism is racism even if mixed in with anti-semitism, sexism etc.


Patrick Gibson I was uncomfortable when I wrote that. Should have given it a little more thought. You are right. Tom likes to poke the fire.


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