The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

As a little girl, I spent many an afternoon wading through my parents’ wedding and honeymoon album. They were married in the 1980s and I always loved the smiles on their faces and the incredibly outlandish outfits worn by the bride, groom and their guests. The venue was familiar to me, a local beach, but all the other accoutrement may as well been through the looking glass. In the same wedding and honeymoon album, my parents had also kept an unusual piece of paper. This inclusion always intrigued me; I was to learn it was a print-out of a telex. As a proud Gen Y-er, I’m still not quite sure what a telex is. It may as well be the Magna Carta. But it reminds me that the not-so-distant past can be as unfamiliar as it is recognisable.

I have written somewhat prolifically about my love of historical fiction. It seems strange to me that I would put this novel in this category, but in many ways I do. While I was alive when this tale took place, albeit only just, the world represented is in many ways far removed from today. Wall Street in the 1980s seems incredibly enigmatic. However, like all good historical fiction novels, there are recognisable human interactions and an abundance of human emotion that make the book as relevant today as it was in the 1980s.

A word of warning: this novel is a satire. It uses hyperbole to elicit some very significant comments about racism, crime, greed, unfettered wealth, and narcissism in capitalist culture. It is also incredibly funny. Protagonist Sherman McCoy (that name!) bears the brunt of Wolfe’s postulations and crosses the borderland of flawed hero and likeable villain with casual ease. To summarise, McCoy is a twat of the highest order. But he is very much a product of the Wall-Street-win-at-all-costs ethos that has been so prevalent in popular culture reflecting the era.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. I found myself rolling my eyes as McCoy dialled his home number and asked for his mistress by name (!). Simultaneously I laughed out loud as he attempted to cover up his pathetic misdemeanour. McCoy is not nasty. But the world he inhabits can be corrupt and mean and serves as a poignant reminder of the trappings of unconstrained power.


Author: Tome To Read

Book, wine and food lover. I created this blog to discuss the things I love.

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