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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New York, from gutter to social ceiling
Chic New York, a city built on aspiration and embodying a cultural elite who have had to create their elitism in the face of Mammon and cultural diversity. Another New York, an existence built on aspiration and hopes of survival, a daily life embodying a struggle to maintain cultural autonomy, group identity, some form of respect, a New York teeming with diversity and...
Published on 12 Aug 2005 by Budge Burgess

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly constructed evocation of time, place and social class
This was a brilliantly constructed "masterpiece", capturing its time and place superbly (as promised on the jacket); it sweeps across the social classes by interweaving the lives of a disparate set of characters all brought to what looks like it will be a final climatic court scene. The author was able to provide sympathetic hooks for each of the characters in the story...
Published on 13 July 2008 by Mr. Philip W. Lupton


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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New York, from gutter to social ceiling, 12 Aug 2005
By 
Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Chic New York, a city built on aspiration and embodying a cultural elite who have had to create their elitism in the face of Mammon and cultural diversity. Another New York, an existence built on aspiration and hopes of survival, a daily life embodying a struggle to maintain cultural autonomy, group identity, some form of respect, a New York teeming with diversity and the struggle to get by in the teeth of hatred, racism, poverty, greed, drugs, violence, and the overwhelming desire of the cultural and political elite to sweep the streets clear of the detritus of city life.
New York in the 1980's, like English society in the 19th century, its cultural and economic elite struggling to set themselves apart, to emphasise that they possess 'real' class, that they are not contaminated by overnight riches. New York where the rich compete to be admired, to be seen, to be respected for their style and savoir faire, a city where a designer apartment is de rigueur.
This is a New York in which Kramer, one of Wolfe's characters, can embrace relief when he discovers that he no longer feels inferior to their English nanny. Insecurity is at the root of elitism, whether it is the struggle to remain in the top echelons of society or to survive in the gutter. Adultery can be carried on with discretion, so can drug use. The rich strive to insulate themselves from contact with the lower classes, the detritus strive to insulate themselves from the law and their own deadly rivals.
Tom Wolfe produces a New York of hermetically sealed compartments, exclusive social groupings struggling to preserve themselves from the risk of contamination by others. It's a cultured world, fuelled by the dynamism of Wall Street, yet so different from the barrow-boy culture of Thatcher's London.
Wolfe writes with such pace and easy flow, you find yourself swept up in the dynamic of the narrative as he introduces his cast of characters and weaves them together in a vast plot which has conspiracy theory written all the way through. Wolfe's dialogue is outstanding - he creates three dimensional characters, you can almost hear their words in your eyes, can see them leap alive from the page. You can, in fact, forget the story and simply indulge yourself in enjoying the writing.
The Picador version delivers an incisive introduction by the author which sets the novel ablaze. He dissects the history of the American novel in the 20th century, pointing out that in the second half of the century novelists strove to escape the contamination of realism; they aspired to a more obscure, less accessible style.
However, the real world fought back. Americans have woken up every morning for the last twenty years or more to find their newspapers and television channels exposing scandals, corruption, political intrigue, religious hypocrisy and sexual shenanigans the like of which no author could write without being damned as too fanciful to be credible.
The real world has become like the combined imaginations of a creative writing class on drugs. Novelists seem like boring drudges in comparison. And Wolfe delivers the examples of characters about whom he was writing being pre-empted by real life events - he's had to rewrite because the story has happened already and he'll simply be accused of lifting the idea from the 'Times' or CNN.
Wolfe's world of New York is a vibrant, frustrating, infuriating, cesspit of trivial drama and petty positioning. He demonstrates that the novelist can deliver insights which newspapers and television news cannot. Wolfe explores a world where everyone is striving to feel morally superior, culturally superior, physically superior. He delivers a city about which you can laugh ... and delivers insights which cause you to sit back and reflect on your own vanities, self-satisfaction, and insecurities.
A superb novel by a brilliant writer - dynamic, acerbic, hilarious, tragic, painful ... and universally human.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, 14 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
Coming to this book some 25 years after it was published, I feel certain that I wouldn't have enjoyed it 25 years ago. Maybe this is because I'm English, I live in Scotland and I'm an earth-mother type of woman - and this book is extremely male-centric and is about image and greed amongst the wealthy upper echelons of New York, so there's not a lot of common ground or shared experience.

However, I've read it now and although I found it hard going at times (the writing style, the shallow male perspective, the only women in the book are very peripheral and are either wives or seductresses) I am actually glad that I decided to read it. It covers a timeless topic - that of selling your soul for short term gratification - and this topic is graphically painted across a city backdrop where everyone is selling their soul at some level or another. I quite enjoyed immersing myself in this world for a few days. It felt very real.

Would I recommend it? I think it's worth the read for a number of reasons - for the exploration of what it means to be a political football, to witness the creation of a media circus, to be given a picture of the cultural melting pot of New York in the '80s. All of this was illuminating for me and made the read worthwhile - so if you aren't sure about the story itself, read it for these reasons and see what you get out of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wolfe in Fiction Mode, 23 Nov 2007
This is apparently Tom Wolfe's first foray into writing a novel. I am a big fan of his journalistic writings and on that basis, Wolfe uses a similar cutting and witty style to satirise New York politics through the story-line. Interestingly, in the introduction, Wolfe states that he set out to write a book about New York, which explains why this story encapsulates so much of the colourful society within this city. More importantly, the story revolves around the politics and tensions between these facets of race and class, resulting in a combustible plot.

Throughout the novel, the inimitable Wolfe style made me laugh out loud as it has done previously, however because it's fiction, Wolfe has free rein using plotline to comment on the ridiculousness of certain aspects of New York society .

Beyond the cleverness and humour of the story, Wolfe takes the social issues and makes you think twice about what is really going on. How can Sherman McCoy, the arrogant reptilian protagonist be the subject of your pity? How can liberality be the gaoler of truth? This ambiguity is what makes this a thought-provoking and memorable book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `I'm already going broke on a million dollars a year.', 25 May 2009
By 
Trevor Coote "Trevor Coote" (Tahiti, French Polynesia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The decade (and the city) that gave us Wall Street and Gordon Gecko, and American Psycho and Patrick Bateman, also gave us The Bonfire of the Vanities and Sherman McCoy. However, Tom Wolfe's best seller is more than just another lacerating satire on the frenzied money-making culture of the 1980s; it is a visceral attack on human greed, hypocrisy, double standards, political expediency and blind ambition.
Sherman McCoy, son of a respected Wall Street lawyer, top bond salesman and self-acclaimed `Master of the Universe' lives the high life with his interior designer wife and beloved daughter in a multi-million dollar Park Avenue apartment. He also has a mistress, femme fatale Maria Ruskin, married to a millionaire three times her age. One night, after picking her up from the airport, he misses the route and finds himself hurtling out of Manhattan and into the `jungle' of South Bronx, a community at that time imploding through drugs and violence. In a nebulous incident where they believe they are about to be attacked by two black boys after they had stopped, Maria takes control of the car and somehow manages to knock down one of the boys. More concerned about being discovered than about what had happened to the victim McCoy believes that he has got away with his misdemeanour when matters take an unexpected downturn. It turns out that the boy has not only been knocked down but is in an irrecoverable coma. There is a witness who has seen a white man and a white woman in a luxury Mercedes and has caught the first part of the number plate before it sped away from the accident. The community is then up in arms when it is discovered that the hospital had sent the boy, Henry lamb, home with an `injured wrist', and even more so when members of the legal profession state that `there is no case'. Is the life of a black boy in the Bronx worth less than that of a Wall Street trader? Through carefully-crafted propaganda `honor student' Henry Lamb is elevated into a beacon of community hopes and aspirations, and McCoy (when he is uncovered) demonised as a truculent and vitriolic racist, a symbol of the Wasp power structure. It is the clash of two contrasting worlds, which exist side by side by side but barely see each other, expressed in two manufactured extremes.
The Bonfire of the Vanities is a terrific account of a man's life in meltdown, the life of a shallow and egotistical narcissist. As a result of his arrogance and casual racism Sherman McCoy becomes trapped in a corrupt and cynical criminal justice system, arrested in a media circus and turned into a political football. We watch him flounder and come apart at the seams with barely a modicum of sympathy from anywhere; certainly not from snooty but sleazy alcoholic English journalist Peter Fallow, ruthless Abe Weiss coming up for re-election and desperate for black votes, fiery, silver-tongued Episcopalian pastor Reverend Bacon, self-appointed spokesman for the black community, nor unscrupulous and ambitious Assistant District Attorney, Lawrence Kramer. The Bonfire is exciting (the chapter where McCoy and his mistress lose their way in the scary backstreets of the Bronx), hilarious (the chapter where through fear and guilt he virtually implicates himself when two detectives arrive at his apartment to make routine enquiries) and moving (his realisation of the effect that his humiliating downfall will have on his little daughter).
There have been criticisms. It is true that many of the characters in Wolfe's epic novel come across as caricatures but that is fine when so many people are self-parodies, anyway. And there is some risky stereotyping of communities. That may be politically incorrect, but it must be remembered that stereotypes are based in truth or they would not stick. It's just that they should never be used against an individual. Besides, it is more than just stereotyping. It is the convincing portrayal of the fragmented communities of New York and how their history and inherited problems and concerns eventually colour their perception of American justice. There is no bias or prejudice; Wolfe leaves no skulls un-cracked. He is particularly astute in recognising the petty niggles that occur between the Brits and the Yanks (two cultures divided by a common language). And finally, it must be said that the racy, journalistic style of this work is entirely apposite. It suits the subject matter and does not in any way detract from the literary quality of this outstanding piece of fiction; an iconic work for the little lamented era of gleaming Porsches, brick-sized mobile phones, junk bonds and money men in red braces.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sprawling... But largely in a good way..., 15 Oct 2007
By 
Dan Fox (Manchester, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Reading the reviews below, it seems Bonfire is a pretty divisive book... I myself picked it up about a decade ago got two hundred pages in and then jacked it in as a bad job... Something I rarely, if ever do... Usually I wade on to the end regardless.

It must have left some impression, though. I picked it up recently and devoured the whole thing in days.

For me the journalistic style and fast paced episodic narrative really worked this time around... Though that said the plot doesn't really wrap up well at the end... and I get the impression the author ran out of steam as he reached the finish line... One scene seems particularly contrived... Not to spoil it for some readers, but the death in a restaurant in the last 100 pages or so seems a little too convenient in drawing things to a close.

The characters are universally repugnant, as has been noted, but also incredibly well observed... And even at their worst they illicit sympathy and (dare I say it) some recognition from this reader.

I even felt a little sorry for Sherman as the plot unfolded. I'd like to think if Wolfe revisited that character now, 20 years on, he would prove to be a better man for the comeuppance he receives in Bonfire than he would've been if not.

One tip I would recommend is read it as fast as you can! This is a book that has to be devoured quickly for best effect... It's tightly paced and dense so if you let it drift it could start to be a chore rather than a pleasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling, 10 Jan 2012
By 
M. Hind "Mike Hind" (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
When a novel captures the essence of the times in which it's set, that's the recipe for a truly immersive experience. The greed, posturing and shallow absurdity of the 80s (as I and many others seem to recall them) is so skilfully reflected I can't think of any better example in fiction. Think 'American Psycho', sans sexual violence and those lengthy discourses on the 'work' of Huey Lewis & the News - but plenty else to laugh at. The set pieces are sometimes breathtaking (my favourite being the 'Death, New York Style' chapter). In the end, though - for me - it's the sheer pace of the horribly unwinding tale that makes this one of the most exciting reads I could name. Picking up this book, it's like you and Sherman McCoy are jumping out of an aircraft. The only way is down. Fast. And the only question is how hard you're going to land.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly constructed evocation of time, place and social class, 13 July 2008
By 
This was a brilliantly constructed "masterpiece", capturing its time and place superbly (as promised on the jacket); it sweeps across the social classes by interweaving the lives of a disparate set of characters all brought to what looks like it will be a final climatic court scene. The author was able to provide sympathetic hooks for each of the characters in the story such that it was difficult to know who to "root for" in what seemed to be the inevitable court showdown. But this is where the book let this reader down. The final few chapters could have brought a memorable book to a crescendo; instead it all fell flat tailing off into a series of footnotes about what happened to the characters after the main story had been told. It was as if the author had become bored with the story, or could not work out how to end it satisfactorily. For this reader this book had parallels with Fielding's Tom Jones - a cracking multi-character narrative brought to the brink; and then tailed off through an author's dis-interest or disinclination to continue in the same style. Maybe the sheer size of both books is the clue.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New York, from gutter to social ceiling, 12 Aug 2005
By 
Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Chic New York, a city built on aspiration and embodying a cultural elite who have had to create their elitism in the face of Mammon and cultural diversity. Another New York, an existence built on aspiration and hopes of survival, a daily life embodying a struggle to maintain cultural autonomy, group identity, some form of respect, a New York teeming with diversity and the struggle to get by in the teeth of hatred, racism, poverty, greed, drugs, violence, and the overwhelming desire of the cultural and political elite to sweep the streets clear of the detritus of city life.
New York in the 1980's, like English society in the 19th century, its cultural and economic elite struggling to set themselves apart, to emphasise that they possess 'real' class, that they are not contaminated by overnight riches. New York where the rich compete to be admired, to be seen, to be respected for their style and savoir faire, a city where a designer apartment is de rigueur.
This is a New York in which Kramer, one of Wolfe's characters, can embrace relief when he discovers that he no longer feels inferior to their English nanny. Insecurity is at the root of elitism, whether it is the struggle to remain in the top echelons of society or to survive in the gutter. Adultery can be carried on with discretion, so can drug use. The rich strive to insulate themselves from contact with the lower classes, the detritus strive to insulate themselves from the law and their own deadly rivals.
Tom Wolfe produces a New York of hermetically sealed compartments, exclusive social groupings struggling to preserve themselves from the risk of contamination by others. It's a cultured world, fuelled by the dynamism of Wall Street, yet so different from the barrow-boy culture of Thatcher's London.
Wolfe writes with such pace and easy flow, you find yourself swept up in the dynamic of the narrative as he introduces his cast of characters and weaves them together in a vast plot which has conspiracy theory written all the way through. Wolfe's dialogue is outstanding - he creates three dimensional characters, you can almost hear their words in your eyes, can see them leap alive from the page. You can, in fact, forget the story and simply indulge yourself in enjoying the writing.
The Picador version delivers an incisive introduction by the author which sets the novel ablaze. He dissects the history of the American novel in the 20th century, pointing out that in the second half of the century novelists strove to escape the contamination of realism; they aspired to a more obscure, less accessible style.
However, the real world fought back. Americans have woken up every morning for the last twenty years or more to find their newspapers and television channels exposing scandals, corruption, political intrigue, religious hypocrisy and sexual shenanigans the like of which no author could write without being damned as too fanciful to be credible.
The real world has become like the combined imaginations of a creative writing class on drugs. Novelists seem like boring drudges in comparison. And Wolfe delivers the examples of characters about whom he was writing being pre-empted by real life events - he's had to rewrite because the story has happened already and he'll simply be accused of lifting the idea from the 'Times' or CNN.
Wolfe's world of New York is a vibrant, frustrating, infuriating, cesspit of trivial drama and petty positioning. He demonstrates that the novelist can deliver insights which newspapers and television news cannot. Wolfe explores a world where everyone is striving to feel morally superior, culturally superior, physically superior. He delivers a city about which you can laugh ... and delivers insights which cause you to sit back and reflect on your own vanities, self-satisfaction, and insecurities.
A superb novel by a brilliant writer - dynamic, acerbic, hilarious, tragic, painful ... and universally human.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bond Buyer Of The Insanities, 28 Nov 2002
By 
Mr. S. J. Wade "thebardofb6" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is a book that captures the madness of the 80's perfectly and I was totally captivated from the introduction onwards. Even 900 pages later, I wished it would carry on. It could quite easily be subtitled 'How To Earn A Million And Still Be Miserable' and every page is dripping with wit and scathing observations about money, life and politics. A true modern masterpiece and a deep source of wit and wisdom about a society based on the idea of Trickle-Down economics. New York is revealed as a divided society, where those with money live in fear of losing the social insulation, that only money can provide. Along with Martin Amis's Money, one of the best novels of the past twenty years.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master of the Republic of Letters, 1 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
One of the great novels of the 20th century. The High Priest of the New Journalism brings all his powers to bear with inimitable style and verve. You'd have to be half-past dead not to be rushed to the end. A morality tale, full of allusion and nods to past literature without for moment requiring the common reader to notice. Learning is rarely worn so lightly. Does not suffer fools lightly.
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