Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid: Stories Paperback – 1 Nov 2001
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If there's one thing Tibor Fischer can do like no-one else, it's to pen snappy, devastating titles. Once you've got past the provocative posturing of this collection's title page, then you're faced with seven brilliantly dubbed pieces--try "We Ate The Chef", "Portrait of the Artist as a Foaming Deathmonger" and "I Like Being Killed" for size.
As all that might suggest, Fischer--known for his Booker-shortlisted Under The Frog and more recently The Thought Gang and The Collector Collector--is a clever writer, a wordsmith of tremendous dexterity, whose fluent prose surges forward with an irrepressible energy, usually pushing him to the furthest edges of a very dark humour and occasionally to a jarring callousness.
The opening novella "We Ate The Chef", for example, starts innocuously enough in Cambridge Circus, but somehow spirals into a Côte d'Azur thriller, climaxing in a particularly ungracious (but utterly appropriate) orgasm. In "Then They Say You're Drunk", Fischer, an adopted South Londoner, explores the quite plausible proposition that Brixton "must have more headcases per square inch than any other place in the world." His trademark stream-of-self-consciousness shares much with the rhythms of stand-up, so it comes as no surprise to find the closing "I Like Being Killed" delving into London's comedy circuit.
But there's a hint of seriousness among the casual cruelty. In the short "Ice Tonight in the Hearts of Young Visitors", Fischer stands on the Hungarian border and concludes bitterly: "I assure you if there is a hell, it will be the most solitary of confinements and cold." --Alan Stewart --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"A stylish, slickly readable, frequently schoolboyish, now and then absurd comic bagatelle which also manages, somehow or other, to be worldly wise, subversive, and not a little creepy" (Henry Hitchings Independent)
"One of the funniest literary intellects" (Steven Poole The Guardian)
"Tibor Fischer is the Ali G of literature..... Perhaps the best tribute to Fischer is that he is one of the handful of authors of whom one asks in hopeful anticipation what he or she is going to do next." (George Walden New Statesman)
"Sly and full of thirtysomething angst. Although stepping into Fischer's world may be a dark and cynical thrill, a thrill it is" (Booklist) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
Under the Frog rendered a brilliant absurdist picture of life in communist Hungary. DRTBS fails to pull this off in a more familiar setting.
The apologists of Soviet communism still amongst us have turned amnesiac, it's an easier target for satire. Modern British sensitivities are more alert to unflattering portrayals of the willingly uncivilised. I've lived in Brixton, it is, as TF explains, a human landfill site. His account seems underplayed, literally true not a comic caricature.
UtF depicted the brutally stupid consequences of political values preceding personal ethics. DRTBS again asserts the primacy of personal ethics but it does not risk a head-on conflict with the contemporary fashion for censoring depictions that are not seen as socially progressive.
Occasionally brilliant, ultimately inconclusive, should have been bolder.
However, the title should have rung alarm bells. Of Hungarian extract he may be, but Fischer suggests that it only takes one generation of inculcation by the English bourgeoisie to learn contempt for all things that aren't English and bourgeois (and a fine degree of self-hatred for things that are, too). It's a hard concept for the outsider to grasp, but the title's implication - that only non-stupid people could understand and appreciate the full horror of being an educated member of an industrially developed prosperous nation - encapsulates it nicely.
There are no diatribes here about the real follies and hypocrisies of modern life; rather one is left with a sense that Fischer is simply disgusted with all that he sees around him. (That includes you and me). That would be more than adequate were it done with a cogency and wit that you might expect from the author of 'Under the Frog' and 'The Thought Gang'; as it lacks this for the most part, it just comes over as misplaced snobbery.
A friend I lent this too described it as Martin Amis lite. And there's the rub - this book occasionally shines, but just isn't as good as it thinks it is. Read it if you want too, just don't take Fischer's view of your intelligence at face value.
We Ate The Chef describes a disastrous holiday undergone by Jim, a web-designer whose business is rapidly going arse-up in a disappearing market. Ending up in the hired villa in Nice of a despised acquaintance, with a rival web-designer, two Russian girls and a moneyed ruffian, Jim eventually gets the unattached girl, but goes through hell beforehand.
Even better is I Like Being Killed which describes a few months in the life of a witty and gorgeous female stand-up comedian. Fischer gets the voice, the manner, the thinking absolutely right. He does the broad brushstrokes with aplomb and the detail is spot-on. Language gets a going over but here there is no hint of a "higher mind" in on the act, just someone who is very clever, and is confident enough not to thrust his cleverness down your throat.
My alacrity did not go unrewarded.
Crackling with a Flaubertian perspicacity and, at times, an almost Celinesque misanthropy, the stories in DBTBIYS are often at once viscerally repellent and intellectually irresistible. And the rest of the time, the converse is true.
This conflictual duality might be unforgiveable if it didn't very nearly perfectly capture the contemporary condition humaine, but since it does, the stories stand as distillations -- often very funny ones -- of fin de siecle urban (and occasionally suburban)life. And don't be fooled: this is ostensibly London and environs (mostly, with some Central Europe and Cote d'Azure thrown in for good measure) but it could be anywhere. New York. Chicago. And smaller cities and towns too numerous to enumerate.
While still, in my opinion, lacking the narrative ease and unity of effect of "Under the Frog," this collection of stories is quintessential Fischer and deserves a wide and enthusiastic reading.
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