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VINE VOICEon 15 July 2001
Those of you expecting something on the lines of Dava Sobell's 'Longitude' or Simon Winchester's 'Surgeon of Crowthorne', be prepared to be very disappointed.
Not so much a book about a species on the verge of extinction; more a story of a man trying and failing to write that story. Consisting mostly of describing how the author could milk the maximum out of his sponsors, along with side-tracks about Naguib Mafouz and a genocidal maniac, it fails miserably to meet the description on the coverleaf.
I kept reading, hoping against hope that it would suddenly transform into a gem, with all the loose threads collected together in a brilliant climax... Sadly not.
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Pere David's Deer, otherwise known as the Milu, which went extinct in its native China and was restored by a captive herd in Britain, is the putative topic. It only occupies a few pages.

There's a lot of rambling, comments by the author about himself and side tracks. Some of the side tracks are well explored and worth a trip. Some are padding, as presented anyway.

This is a slim volume and I was disappointed and surprised that despite the descriptions of the comically assembled deer, there is no photo or drawing any larger than the thumbnail sketch on the cover.

There is a section about a club of gun nuts - mostly American - who - the author claims - go around the world deliberately trying to drive endangered species extinct. If any of this is true the author should supply all details to appropriate authorities and to groups like WWF. Endangered species are almost always preserved from hunting. If none of it is true it has no business in this book.

Not a great read, but an okay browse. Some humour, but not that funny. Some intelligent comment and research, but not enough for any claim to depth.
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on 24 February 2015
Is even the deer real? Can the Boxer Rebellion really have been that much fun? This book is better without either of its American subtitles. (The publishers were clearly panicking.) Twigger subverts or collapses the go-getting, fact-seeking genre into Tall Tale or yarn with the unifying theme of extinction as philosophical undertow. Extinction, eh? Funny nobody makes much of that elephant-skeleton in the room - must be distracted by those larky subtitles. But the American reviewers get it, mostly. This is not a comic novel but a serious book with a comic narrator, Voltaire cut with JK Jerome. It gets you below the belt. By 2050 it may even enjoy cult status - if there's anyone still around
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on 20 July 2001
Unlike the reviewer from Sharjah I read this without expectation, not hoping it was another Longitude or other 'little book' of that type, but paying attention to what the author has to stay. And oh boy does Twigger have a lot to say. This is a book quite unlike anything anyone else is writing. The honesty and care in conclusion shine through. His writing style is casually perfect and - for me this is a telling point so often lost on the po faced critics - chock full of very funny jokes. I really enjoyed the discontinuity and the competing strands of the text. A major entertaining and thoughtful work on the nature of values and what deserves to survive. Just buy it - you won't regret it.
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on 1 September 2001
First there was Longitude, then there was Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, after that it was The Potato: How it Changed History. Three years ago publishers were frantic for quirky tales for the new 'short book' slot. Such books are a rich blend of history and fact, where truth and goodness triumph in the face of great adversity. The Extinction Club turns the genre of short books on its head, revealing the sometimes lunatic craze for books for the sake of books.
Enter Robert Twigger, hungry author, generally eager, and willing to do anything for a big advance. The phone rings. It's the call that every hungry author is awaiting ('The phone call that will change your life with money'). Twigger's agent is on the line. She's just heard of the greatest short book story imaginable. She claims that a big publisher would pay 'five figures'.
The tale involves a species of deer, known as Milu, which was saved from extinction in China during the Boxer Rebellion by a Basque priest called Père David. For 1000 years Milu had lived in the Imperial park, hunted only by Emperors. It's a strange animal: with the neck of a camel, the horns of a stag, the feet of a cow and the tail of a donkey. The priest, who was the first Westerner ever to see Milu, risked his life obtain a specimen. He bribed a sentry to knock one off in the dead of night. Then he embalmed it and sent it to Paris in a diplomatic bag. A few live examples followed. They were taken to Woburn Abbey, the seat of the eccentric 11th Duke of Bedford.
While their cousins thrived in Bedfordshire, the Emperor's Milu were victims of the Boxer Rebellion. They were all chopped up for food by soldiers (their meat is apparently delicious). Years passed, and Woburn's herd of Milu flourished. In 1986 part of the British herd were returned to China.
Woven in through The Extinction Club is Twigger's own tale. He blows the advance on frivolities, and soon realises that he's short of material. Milu's interesting, and there's certainly the theme of triumph in the face of adversity. Meanwhile Twigger's publisher and agent are nagging for the draft. Twigger fends them off for as long as he can. The Extinction Club is without doubt the most bizarre and brilliant short book written in recent times, and Robert Twigger must be the bravest author in history for challenging the system in the way that he does. There are lessons for us all in this book, not least for hungry writers and frenzied publishers.
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on 27 August 2001
This book blows ordinary "little books" (i.e. Longitude and all the variants on the "Thing that Changed the World" genre) clean out of the water. Quite frankly I've never read anything like it. It takes the marginally interesting topic of a Chinese deer and unexpectedly turns it into a fascinating and masterful meditation on creativity and the loss of knowledge in an overly-mechanised world, and with it the decline of human civilisation. Anyone disappointed with the book has failed to grasp its genius. We want more writing like this. Fantastic!
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