mondyboy (mondyboy) wrote,

Cashing in on a Controversy

What with the recent controversy regarding this review of twenty-six lies/one truth, I thought I'd actually read the book and review it.  That's the thing about controversy, it  creates publicity and sometimes gets people off their arses and reading so they can make up their own minds. 

There's something a bit detached abou 26 lies.  I thought it would be angrier.  I'm not sure entirely why.  Maybe because I imagine Ben to be an angry man, gnashing his teeth at what he considers to be an unfair world.  But that image of Ben is more my weird fantasy and has no basis in the real world.  It's certainly not evident on his blog.  I mean, he's obviously a bloke who likes to state an opinion.  But even his rantings have a sort of detached style.  As if he believes it doesn't matter in the slightest what he thinks or writes - no one is going to take him seriously anyway.

And that's a little bit how I felt reading 26 lies.  I'd call it apathetic writing.  Except that's sounds pejorative and that's not what I'm aiming for.  There's something detached about the book.  A little bit cynical as well - but that's not the main ingredient.  If I had to put a finger on it I'd say world weary.  As if Ben, a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met anybody, has become completely desensitized to his existence.

What I'm trying to say is that the book lacks intensity.  That doesn't mean it isn't good.  The writing is very good indeed.  The little snippets about authors who have lied - pretending to be someone who they're not - are genuinely interesting.  I even learnt what Factotum meant.  But, whether the extracts of his life are true or not, I was hoping to engage with Ben, or at least the person represented in the book.  Even his relationship with his girlfriend in Brisbane (the one bit that's probably false, but who knows) lacks punch.  I didn't really care.  The arguments - presented as lines of speech - are just that, arguments.  There's some good stuff in there.  But nothing I could hang my emotional hat on. 

That said, some of the passages are simply superb and quite funny.  Ben's writing shines when he talks about the things he genuinely loves, such as his adoration for Octavia Butler.  I also really enjoyed the segments on Bukowski... and now I have a yearning to pick up some Bukowski for myself.  In fact, the bright little snippets re-assure the reader that Ben isn't entirely dead on the inside.  His still yearns for the things he loves.  They just may not be the same things that you love.

Ben's also quite happy to throw around his opinion.  And that's cool.  I don't agree with him on a number of issues.  Especially the bit about Nationalism.  But even when I didn't agree with him I couldn't help but nod my head after reading Ben's thought on a particular issue.  Also his section on Censorship and how stupid it is, is spot on.  I liked his bit on sanctity as well.

Overall 26 lies is the sort of ambitious, clever book that's always worth reading even if it doesn't entirely suceed.  While I didn't engage with Ben the character in the book, I never felt bored reading about his life.  Not that the book ever dwells on one subject long enough to ever be boring.  And the thing is, after finishing the book I felt I'd learnt a number of new things and felt inspired enough to check out the work of a number of writers who I'd never bothered with before.  So on that level the book was a success.

So, yes, I do recommend 26 lies.  The writing is strong, if a bit detached.  And the subject matter is interesting, if a bit matter of fact.  But it's obviously the work of a very talented author.

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