March 31st, 2010
|11:59 pm - Welcome to the Bad Monkey House|
Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff, is a book I have been wanting to read for over a year. I discovered an intriguing review of it while idly surfing friendsfriends one day—the person I have to thank is lost to history—and it inspired the creation of the List of Books I Want to Read Eventually (most of which have been recommended by rachelmanija, at this point). All this time, this book was at the top of the list, and I think the blurb succinctly describes why:
Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.Now, that last sentence may sound like blurb propaganda, but let me tell you this: once I started reading this book, I did not want to stop. It really is a page-turner. I would have finished it the night I brought it back from the library if I could have. That was Monday. I burned through the last third just now because I wanted to get to the end and find out what the fuck was going on.
She tells police that she is a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil; her division is called the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—"Bad Monkeys" for short.
This confession earns Jane a trip to the jail's psychiatric wing, where a doctor attempts to determine whether she is lying, crazy—or playing a different game altogether. What follows is one of the most clever and gripping novels you'll ever read.
If you don't know I heart unreliable narrators by now, you haven't been paying attention. But I do. So of course I was into this woman spinning a far-fetched yarn about being recruited by a secret organization she couldn't prove existed, telling tales the psychiatrist comes back with verifiable facts to contradict. You know at any moment that her whole damn story, her whole life, everything she says could be revealed to be a lie, and you kind of don't care because it's still a great, rollicking story anyway. The organization is really cool! So what if her fiction is fiction? You're reading the fiction to be entertained, and if her fiction is entertaining you, isn't that worth something? Her story is intercut with scenes in the white room between her and the psychiatrist, and these scenes are told from an objective, third-person POV, as if you are a camera viewing the action. This, what you are seeing, is incontrovertible fact. This, you can believe, whatever Jane Charlotte says. This is reality.
Besides the battle between reality and fiction inherent in the narrative, there is a thread examining good and evil. Bad Monkeys, the division, is good, and they hunt down bad monkeys, who are evil. But who determines who's evil and whether or not they deserve to die? How do you know whether you're capable of evil? Is it something in your nature or something you can change? Which one is better for the world, good or evil?
Bad Monkeys is compulsively readable since there's so much urgency in the storytelling; you are being told the very long story that explains why Jane Charlotte killed a man. I'm not sure whether it's the writing or my mistaken impression that Jane was a teenager, but the voice sounds more like a mature 17-year-old than a 37-year-old woman. That does make it a very easy, quick read, though. The story does take some odd turns in the homestretch, and the final twists are somewhat convoluted, but no more so than you'd expect from a conspiracy thriller of this sort. You pick up a book like this, and you know that shit is going to end with everyone being dead or it was all a dream or actually this is 1962 or IT'S A COOKBOOK! or whatever. (Spoiler warning: it's not a cookbook.)
(OR IS IT.)
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: A Perfect Circle - Imagine
I actually wasn't too fond of this one (I seem to have developed a number system for Matt Ruff, similar to the Indiana Jones one: odd numbers great, even numbers meh.). I agree that it is a page turner, but I found the twist a little tiring? It was like he needed to have one for the sake of having a twist. I think the novel would have stayed on its feet without that.
I can see that. It made me rethink the whole book and try to reframe it from a new perspective, which was cool, but I wasn't sure if it worked. It wasn't quite what I expected, and it wasn't perfect, but it did fit somehow.
Maybe it has something to do with me being barely able to stand the character before. I guess my interest really hinged on her being sympathetic in some ways. It's not that I can't deal with unsympathetic protagonists or unlikable first person narrators. I'd say it came across a little too obviously as the author saying "gotcha!" He has that tendency, but in this case it was somewhat obnoxious. For me, at least.
Ah yes, you also didn't like The Egyptologist. When will we ever agree on anything??
I say it's a good barometer. For the record, I think Set This House In Order is Matt Ruff's best book, and Fool On A Hill is quite good and has some pretty neat ideas. Not a fan of Sewer, Gas, Electric, but then again, I've never read Atlas Shrugged, which it parodies. Just in case you plan on checking out other Matt Ruff books. ;)
And I never said The Egyptologist was a bad book. The idea was overextended and would have been served much better with a novella, but other than that, it's well-written.
For the record, I think Set This House In Order is Matt Ruff's best book, and Fool On A Hill is quite good and has some pretty neat ideas. Not a fan of Sewer, Gas, Electric, but then again, I've never read Atlas Shrugged, which it parodies. Just in case you plan on checking out other Matt Ruff books.
likes SG&E the most! Heh. Set This House in Order
sounds interesting but confusing. The other two just seem really bizarre and wacky.And I never said The Egyptologist was a bad book. The idea was overextended and would have been served much better with a novella, but other than that, it's well-written.
I loved it, but I suppose it could have been shorter, yeah.
Wait, Matt Ruff has a new book now?
If you haven't read them, one of my friends got me started on him with Fool on the Hill, after which I bought Sewer, Gas, and Electric and Set this House in Order, all of which are incredibly awesome books. I don't read much, but Matt Ruff is one of those guys whose works are, like, oxytocetic or something. I actually found SGE and House better than Fool (SGE probably being my favorite), but they're all good if you haven't read him yet.
Wait, Matt Ruff has a new book now?
This one came out in 2007.
His other books sound...really, really weird. But people do seem to like them; I hadn't heard of him before.
...boy, has it been a while since I've actively checked up on literature.
I'm really glad you gave that spoiler warning - if this had been a book about how to preserve monkeys I would have been really pissed!
That aside, your enthusiasm for the book has definitely got me interested so I'm going to be looking for this book in the next week or two.
|Date:||April 1st, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)|| |
This sounds SO interesting. Must get a copy!
I LOVED Bad Monkeys. I had a copy but gave it away to someone who I thought would love it too -- and ever since I have wanted to read it again to see how it works once you know the twists and turns. You're the only person I know of who has read it.
What about the someone? Did they read and love it?
I was flipping back a lot to see whether I'd missed clues, and there were several things that did work in their own way.
This book is only 230 pages! You can read it in a few hours! Which you will want to anyway!
... And it's officially requested from the library.
I am a lurker around these parts (I am pretty sure I found you via friendsfriends?), but I recently reread Bad Monkeys and it is one of my favorite books of all time oh dear god and after reading this entry, I have finally decided that now is the time to de-anonymize and add you to the flist and also say hi. BECAUSE IT IS READINGLIST-FUELED DESTINY. Or something to that effect.
So! Hi again!
Hi! I just saw you over in Marina's LJ!
For a second there I thought you were going to reveal yourself as the person who recommended it in the first place.
MAYBE YOU ARE.
Alas, for I don't recall having ever recced it! I should, though. It deserves the love.
|Date:||April 8th, 2010 06:44 am (UTC)|| |
I was excited to read this because it was bright yellow and no corners like a colonial book. Unfortunately I think those two things were its best qualities. :/
You know at any moment that her whole damn story, her whole life, everything she says could be revealed to be a lie, and you kind of don't care because it's still a great, rollicking story anyway. The organization is really cool! So what if her fiction is fiction? You're reading the fiction to be entertained, and if her fiction is entertaining you, isn't that worth something?
I don't know. I started assuming what Ruff wanted the reader to assume fairly early on and it made the book pretty depressing. I couldn't really get into the adventures. And the twist at the end felt unearned. The book really seemed to favor one (ultimately false) interpretation. Ah, well. It was a really fast read.
Oh goodie. I was just thinking to myself, "gee, Sunil's reading recommendations are always awesome. I wonder if he's read anything new and recommending others read it." And lookee there, you did. That makes my day. (And it could have made my day a week ago!) Also, I just snagged Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E and I am super glad you suggested that one too. Thank you, friend.
Isn't Nextwave the greatest? So much fun. Hope you enjoy it and Bad Monkeys!