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Book Report: Villa Incognito

At some point recently, Your Humble Blogger was scanning the shelves looking for a book to re-read. I was in the mood for something funny, a bit wild, a bit serious, something that I had read before but not too recently, something that would likely contain a few surprises on re-reading, but mostly have the familiar comforts of recognition. So, not too surprisingly, I found myself picking up a Tom Robbins novel. Sadly, it was the wrong one. Somehow, I find that I own copies of Still Life with Woodpecker and Skinny Legs and All, both of which are fine books, but neither of them seemed appealing to re-read. I think what I wanted was Jitterbug Perfume, although Even Cowgirls Get the Blues would probably have satisfied.

Anyway, I didn’t get it. Then, as it happened, whilst at the library I remembered my dissatisfaction, and wandered over to the ROB section of the fiction shelves, where I discovered that there was a no-longer-remotely-new novel since I last lost touch with Mr. Robbins’ oeuvre. So I picked up Villa Incognito, and read it, and more or less enjoyed it. It didn’t satisfy my earlier itch (which had passed long since anyway), but it is clearly not a novel intended to satisfy. In fact, it seems to me like half a novel, or perhaps two-thirds of one. The events in the final twenty pages or so seem less like a climax and more like the events that propel the remaining characters to a climax. More than that, though, the characters are pushed around by the novel’s demands more roughly than usual, and more complacently. And, partially because of the way Your Humble Blogger has grown and changed over the years, I find his contempt for religion less challenging and amusing, and more lazy than I did when reading earlier books as a young man.

It is interesting, however, to see Mr. Robbins struggle with a response to the world after the destruction of the World Trade Center. Not that the destruction of a building or two makes much difference to Mr. Robbins’ world-view, nor the wonton slaughter of innocents for that matter, which for Mr. Robbins has always been the hallmark of civilization. But I think it’s harder, now, for Mr. Robbins to highlight the stupidity and absurdity of the world. Those things are more obvious, now, and there is less fun to be had in pointing them out. I haven’t read any interviews from the last three-and-a-half years, but I suspect that for Mr. Robbins (as for Kurt Vonnegut), there must be a sense of terrible weariness, of the effort that it takes to maintain the celebration that is such a necessary counterbalance to contempt, of how much further away the future is than it used to be, that the idea of writing about it seems nearly impossible, and beside the point, anyway.

Hm. That sounds pretty bad. I should probably state again that I enjoyed reading Villa Incognito. Mr. Robbins has had as profound an influence on my own writing style as anybody else I can think of, and more than that, as profound an influence on my sense of humor and my sense of the universe itself. Not that I agree, ultimately, with Mr. Robbins interpretation of the universe or of events and themes within it, but that I have had, in my mind, to address (if not ultimately refute) Mr. Robbins’ strokes, rather than dismiss them. And I still do. I found myself resorting to some pretty hi-falutin’ argument in response to reading this slight comic novel, and that can’t be bad.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


Yes, yes. As Robbins-esque as the won ton slaughter of innocents might be, I expect that it was the wanton slaughter of innocents that the author considered the hallmark of civilization. YHB needs an editor.

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