November 27, 2012 · 9:05 am
A review of Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley
@@@ (3 out of 5)
Christopher Buckley proved to me that he’s one of the funniest writers alive today with Thank You For Smoking, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, and Little Green Men (the latter two of which I’ve reviewed in this blog and hyperlinked their titles to my reviews). Florence of Arabia is, like them, a satirical novel rooted in contemporary issues, but once Buckley had introduced his protagonist and set up the story that revolves around her, I found myself laughing less and less. The difference here is that the issue the novel addresses — the brutal subjugation of women in ultra-conservative Muslim societies — is simply not funny. However preposterous the characters or improbable the circumstances, the subject just isn’t laughable at all.
In other ways, however, Florence of Arabia showed off Buckley’s exceptional talent: deliciously convoluted (if not Byzantine) plotting, overblown characters that somehow still seem true to life, and thorough grounding in the facts on the ground to make the story seem dangerously close to reality. All this made the book worth reading, even though I pretty much stopped chuckling about one-third of the way through the story.
So, here’s what happens: State Department bureaucrat Florence (born Firenze) Farfaletti is driven to feminist activism when an old friend from her tour in Wasabia (read: Saudi Arabia) is beheaded at the orders of her husband, the Wasabian Ambassador to the U.S., when she contacts Florence during an attempt to escape her stifling life in the Embassy. Improbably bankrolled by a shadowy government official named “Uncle Sam” to engineer a feminist revolution in Wasabia, Florence teams up with a CIA master-spy, a totally unprincipled PR man, and her gay State Department friend, George, a brilliant linguist and political analyst. Together, the four hapless warriors translate themselves to the Emirate of Matar (pronounced “Mutter”) where they set Florence’s cockamamie scheme into motion with the support of the Emir’s wife, a former television anchor in the UK.
Mayhem ensues. What else?
Filed under Humor, Trade Fiction
Tagged as Christopher Buckley, current-events, espionage, feminism, feminist revolution, florence of arabia, fundamentalist Islam, humor, Little Green Men, middle-east, Muslim, Muslim insurgency, national security, Novel, politics, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabi
October 18, 2012 · 9:28 am
A review of Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley
@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Perhaps it requires a rarefied sense of humor to appreciate Christopher Buckley, but you wouldn’t know it from the sales figures on his books. Anyone who can write a book with endlessly eccentric characters named Sir Reginald Pigg-Vigorish, Col. Roscoe J. Murfletit, General Tunklebunker, and Deputy FBI Director Bargenberfer may be reaching the pre-adolescent in me, but he makes me laugh, dammit, and I’m not going to apologize for it, so there!
In Little Green Men, not only does Buckley make me chuckle and wheeze with immoderate glee, but he also solves the mystery of the UFOs! Could anyone possibly wish for more?
Like so many of Buckley’s satirical novels, Little Green Men tells the story of a hapless (though in this case willing) victim of the absurd circumstances surrounding him — circumstances caused in large part by a witless supporting cast with names such as those listed in the opening paragraph of this review. Buckley’s antihero here is John Oliver Banion, a pompous Sunday-morning public affairs television talk show host with a pedigree that looks just a little bit like Christopher Buckley’s (including Yale, of course!). In fact, Buckley is never better than when skewering People Like Us, and he does it with such skill that I can almost imagine him cackling in the background as he types away.
One fine day John O. Banion is slicing into the rough on his exclusive country club golf course when he is abducted and “probed” by aliens — not Little Green Men, actually, but silver ones whom UFO taxonomists call Tall Nordics. The action that radiates from this inexplicable event is far too complicated, and far too unlikely — not to mention funny — to sum up, so I’ll leave it to you when you read this beautifully crafted little book.
Little Green Men is the fourth of the nine satirical novels Christopher Buckley has published since 1986. I’ve read most of them and reviewed two in this blog. You can see my previous reviews by clicking on these titles: The White House Mess and They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? I also found Boomsday and Supreme Courtship hilarious, though I read them before starting this blog.
Filed under Humor, Trade Fiction
Tagged as Christopher Buckley, current-events, eccentrics, flying saucers, humor, Little Green Men, national security, Novel, People Like Us, talk show host, UFOs