Shovelmonkey1's Reviews > The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
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Mar 02, 12

bookshelves: 1001-books, bookcrossing-books, kitten-squishers, read-in-2012
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Recommended for: yuppies and lemon tarts
Read from February 16 to 20, 2012, read count: 1

Bonfire of the Vanities is not so much one massive pyre but several large and closely situated camp-fire like conflagrations.

Conflagration 1: Master of the Universe, bond baron and archetypal WASP Sherman McCoy, has reached the top of his particular tree and is enjoying the view from on high while ensuring that his chin is always seen at the right angle. It is nice being at the top of things because well, lets face it, no one wants to be at the bottom. The problem with being at the top of the tree is that there is always someone eager to knock you down. In Sherman's case his particular tree is on Wall Street which means that there is a pack of suited and suspendered wolves baying at the bottom of the tree and even if they can't knock Sherman down themselves, well at least they'll be in line for a tasty treat when he eventually falls. And fall Sherman does. Although admittedly he does aid and abet his own downward trajectory by stepping out on the thinnest possible limb and has an ill-concealed affair with a high class floozy who bangs about more than a barn door in a high wind. Add into the mix a hit-and-run after a wrong turning in the Bronx and it is surely game over Sherman.

Conflagration 2: Hot on his heels, in pursuit of justice for the underdog and a quick lay, is Jewish Assistant D.A Larry Kramer, a man whose ego is a lot bigger and brain is sadly a lot smaller than his sternocleidomastoid muscles. But that is not going to deter him from making a big name for himself in the Bronx. And why should he want to make a name for himself? A pay rise so he can continue to provide for his wife and child? Nope he's all about bagging himself a date with the girl with the brown lipstick (it is little details like this that remind you this book was set in the 1980s). Sadly its a case of non cogito ego sum for Mr Kramer.

Conflagration 3: Pitching in at ringside for the Bronx is Reverend Reginald Bacon, black activist, money spinner and all round voice for the people. He wants many things, among them £350,000 in tax free money from the Episcopalian church which he is in no hurry to return and justice for poor young Henry Lamb, the victim of the hit and run (or more accurately, some careless reversing). Bacon is probably the most canny of all the players and while he doesn't get what he wants, he comes of lightly toasted and not totally roasted.

Completing the racially and economically diverse, self-serving quartet of protagonists is

Conflagration 4: Peter Fallow, the seedy Brit hack who is shallower than a paddling pool. Fallow has lost his literary mojo and allows himself to be manipulated through the coverage of the McCoy case as a way of reinvigorating his career. His all time personal highlight is when Arty Ruskin, aged socialite and man about town dies at the dinner table of a high-end eatery while he's in the process of interviewing him. Shallow Fallow refuses to pay the bill, scoops the death story as an exclusive and outs the staff as heartless bastards who stepped over the dead man to carry on serving exclusive yuppie mini food. Fallows end game is a new blazer and a Pulitzer and he gets both so he's probably the real winner.

The principle characters in this book are all men. The women are either Lemon Tarts (slutty blondes), mistresses (normally a Lemon Tart), gold diggers, Social X-rays (ageing, thinning over-toned skeletons in designer garb who were once Lemon Tarts) or the stay at home, expanded-ass, drab house frau. Ladies, in this respect you may not find a lot to love. On the other hand you can watch the gentlemen make fools of themselves which is fairly good value for money.

On the whole I zipped through this book faster than a yuppie in a Porsche 911 and much like being in a Porsche it was quite a nice ride. Slick, shiny and satisfying. The end was a bit of a cop out though and I am not sure that I approve. If I had to summarise this book, I'd say that this is what American Psycho wants to be when it grows up.
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Reading Progress

02/16/2012 page 160
21.0% "Burn baby burn."
02/19/2012 page 540
72.0% "Zipping through this 80s-fest faster than a yuppie in a Porsche 911."
02/20/2012 page 620
82.0% "I'm starting to wonder if the moral of this story is that women should not be allowed to drive."
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Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways If I had to summarise this book, I'd say that this is what American Psycho wants to be when it grows up.

Ugh, I hated 'em both.


Shovelmonkey1 Aww boo, me likee.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways More for you, then. When the book was new, I wasn't impressed with it, and I said so...got a lot of hell for that, so hahaha on trying to make me feel bad from the managedly declining Puddle of Liver.


Shovelmonkey1 Thrrrrp!
I don't know why I liked both these books. They are sort of like readable versions of Dallas or Dynasty or The Hills (to put a more modern spin on things) but with murders. Just big booky soap operas filled with unlikeables so that it is nice to sit at home and think "ah well at least I am not a complete cock like this lot"... or something along those lines!


Noran Miss Pumkin Great-well written, witty review. Adored the social x-rays--that is a perfect description of them!


Shovelmonkey1 Thank you - Social X-ray is one of the terms used in the book so sadly i cannot take credit for that term. This book is definitely of its time but I enjoyed it none the less


message 7: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Richard wrote: "If I had to summarise this book, I'd say that this is what American Psycho wants to be when it grows up.

Ugh, I hated 'em both."


Ruh-roh, I've had my eyes on AP for awhile now...


Shovelmonkey1 Do it . I read it in one day and loved it.


message 9: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Do it . I read it in one day and loved it."

I know that I'll fold eventually.

By the way: I'm a huge failure when it comes to squishers this month. I think that 1Q84 made me squisher-shy.


Shovelmonkey1 S'ok I just received the hard back copy and well f**k me sideways it is squish -tastic so I'm not surprised! I've managed Lord of the rings and bonfire of the vanities so far this month and I want to get house of leaves read too although I'm not taking that on the commute unless one of you kind gentlemen wants to volunteer to carry my bag.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "unless one of you kind gentlemen wants to volunteer to carry my bag."

On your own, there, Monkey. Think of it as a field pack.


message 12: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "S'ok I just received the hard back copy and well f**k me sideways it is squish -tastic so I'm not surprised! I've managed Lord of the rings and bonfire of the vanities so far this month and I want..."

Wait: is that an invitation to work on a dig? :)

HoL doesn't read well in installments--especially when you're wading through the teensy footnotes. Curse those footnotes!!


message 13: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "S'ok I just received the hard back copy and well f**k me sideways it is squish -tastic so I'm not surprised! I've managed Lord of the rings and bonfire of the vanities so far this month and I want..."

Wait: is that an invitation to work on a dig? :)

HoL doesn't read well in installments--especially when you're wading through the teensy footnotes. Curse those footnotes!!


message 14: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "S'ok I just received the hard back copy and well f**k me sideways it is squish -tastic so I'm not surprised! I've managed Lord of the rings and bonfire of the vanities so far this month and I want..."

Wait: is that an invitation to work on a dig? :)

HoL doesn't read well in installments--especially when you're wading through the teensy footnotes. Curse those footnotes!!


Shovelmonkey1 Aw man! Daniel you can come digging if I ever get the chance to dig a hole near you. Your tiny pooch is welcome along too.


message 16: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Have had this on the to-read list for quite a while. Have even seen in it the used bookstore.

So I was just wondering what a sternocleidomastoid muscle is but apparently I don't care enough to google it.


Shovelmonkey1 Big muscle down the side of your neck. Every time Kramer gets mentioned so does this.


message 18: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Thanks. So, he twitches. How oddly erudite of Wolfe.


message 19: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Klappenskoff I can't believe that that Lemon Tart American Psycho would aspire to be a Social X-ray.


message 20: by Nelly (new)

Nelly Enjoyed your review much more than the book. Can't remember much about the story other than it was a fun, easy read. Too glib and breezy for me though.


Shovelmonkey1 Thank you. You're in the majority there i think. Many people seem to have been unimpressed with this despite its 80s cult classic status .


message 22: by Jack (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jack Aubrey Yes, but could Sherman get a table at Dorsia?


Shovelmonkey1 Probably not Jack he's just not cool enough. Apparently people kill for a table at Dorsia which explains how bateman gets in!


Danyellemastro I literally hated all 730 pages. I hope his other work is better.


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