Review: Bonfire of the Vanities

Greetings to you ardent Cracked Spine followers! My name is Die, a somewhat infrequent collaborator on this here blog who manages to shoehorn in her scattered musings when Moz isn’t hogging it with flowery reviews and carefully posed Instagrams of books and coffee. I suppose I should introduce myself properly with a “my favourite book” post a la my cohort however that’s a post for another time and I’m in one of those rare moods where I’ve finally finished a book that has excited me to such an extent I simply had to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the case may be) and share my enthusiasm with everyone who happens upon this post.

13988765_10207576536834383_65743728_nSimilarly to my partner-in-reading, I am not very good at keeping up with the newest reads and tend to stumble upon books years after everyone else has ceased raving about them. Almost two years ago my aunt, upon learning of our shared love of reading, recommended Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” to me. She had tried to encourage my uncle (her brother-in-law) to read it however, at over 700 pages, it was a good 500 too many for him and he politely declined. I however felt more up for the challenge and, a mere two years after it was initially recommended to me, I have finally turned the last page on this incredible novel.

This book, despite being published over 25 years ago, feels so incredibly current. Its musings on race relations, white privilege, the entitlement of the 1% and the ever-growing inequality in American life feels like it could be ripped from today’s headlines. While it’s presented as a pulpy tale (I’ve even seen it described, albeit somewhat aptly, as “dick-lit), Wolfe’s sardonic narrative means there is plenty of food-for-thought for even the most casual of readers.

The story primarily revolves around three men, consumed by their egos yet crippled by societal expectations and positioning. Sherman McCoy is a bonds salesman with the esteemed Pierce & Pierce. A millionaire with a fashionable Park Avenue address, a skeletal wife and a “foxy” mistress, he appears to have it all and confidently defines himself as a “Master of the Universe”. Lawrence Kramer, a Bronx assistant district attorney, is by contrast completely scornful of the path his life has taken. Ashamed by his wife and lowly salary earnings and expectations, he dreams of scoring an important case and finally gaining the admiration to which he feels entitled. Peter Fallow is an alcoholic journalist barely working for a trashy New York tabloid and using his European experience to con American innocence to stretch the last of his money and social standing. From one fateful accident in the Bronx, the lives of these three men are brought crashing together while the fragile race relations in the city are brought to an explosive head.

This book was such a joy to read and a complete page-turner. The way in which the stories are intertwined means that no incident occurs in a vacuum; while you have one chapter of Fallow seeking a story, the next could be Sherman creating it followed by the NYPD reacting to it. Wolfe is careful to have no figure of unblemished morals in this novel. Everyone is has an ulterior motive and you can almost feel the author’s cynicism dripping from each page. As an insight into the reality of the criminal justice system in America and the ways in which it works for/against the people, this really is a must-read.

I have found very few books this year that I have out-and-out LOVED, but this is certainly one of them. If, like myself, you’re over 25 years late to the party, treat yourself. You won’t regret it.

TL;DR – It’s The Wolf of Wall Street meets American Psycho meets a pulpy episode of Law and Order – of COURSE you’ll love it.



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