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3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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Whilst I lost interest in the man's movies some considerable time back, I'll always have time to reread his trio of humorous essay collections from the '70s, hence my excitement in hearing about this book.

It doesn't disappoint in it's inspired silliness and virtuoso use of arcane and rococo language - I can think of scarcely a single current humourous writer who could beat this on a laughs-per -page basis.

A justified criticism might be that Allen's recurrent themes,rather recherche even in the 70s, are simply antiquated now - There's a piece on The Three Stooges, for instance. Contemporary readers might well take issue with Allen's attitude towards women here, too.
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VINE VOICEon 2 September 2009
I didn't expect to be criticising a Woody Allen book but Mere Anarchy seldom reaches the heights of any of his previous trilogy, nor does it really stray from the same themes and situations. In fact, there were a number of weak formulaic stories that hardly raised a chuckle, never mind the involuntary guffaw common to the 5 star Getting Even, Side Affects and Without Feathers. Woody's strong and frequent New York, Jewish dialect and references also make comprehension a bit difficult at times and obscure some of the undoubtedly brilliant metaphors, but i suppose that's my problem as an English speaker ;-)
However, even if the story ideas aren't as strong as previous collections there is a wealth of small detail to delight in the dialogue, rhetoric and idiom on every page. The names of characters are great too - Flanders Mealworm, Pontius Perry, Max Endorphine, Reg Millipede, Murray Pepkin, Velveeta Belknap - reminiscent of PG Wodehouse.
The stories commonly follow the downward spiralling fortunes of the subject, with the comically self-deprecating hero involved in absurd deals and transactions with showbiz promoters, agents, building contractors, patients and doctors - Allen employing bathos (and other classic comic elements) to ridicule all kinds of artistic pretension - eg a Broadway play about the invention and manufacture of the adjustable showerhead, or the songwriting titles and lyrics of undiscovered genius Pepkin eg "A Side Order of Heartache, Please" and "Embrace me, disgrace me, just don't erase me from your rolodex". Unfortunately it's often the same joke dressed in different, if admittedly witty, words.
My favourite stories were Below the Box Springs and Pinchuck's Law - right at the end - which i felt were consistently funny - too many of the others felt a bit like rejects or unedited drafts from his earlier books.
In spite of all these reservations it is an extremely funny book in Allen's unique style. I suppose you'll either love or hate it then. I suspect it may seem a bit male chauvinist (is that the Jewish influence?) to some sensitive souls. I look forward to reading it again with a New York Dictionary.
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on 15 November 2009
I am a huge fan of Woody Allen's films. This is the first book written by him which I have read. The best I can say is that each story within the selection is short. I continued to read the stories as I thought they were bound to improve but I was disappointed. He tried too hard to be funny and unfortuntaely left me without a smile.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 September 2009
Consisting of eighteen short pieces of tongue-in-cheek writing by Woody Allen, some of this stuff is a little facile and angled for an American market and as names and references passed me by I felt put-off. Not all Americans who write humorously need this thick façade of in-jokes (Richard Russo with Straight Man for instance or Percival Everett with American Desert), but Allen seems more one-dimensional. He likes to extemporise along a theme - the idea of a film camp for American youngsters, for instance, or the dreadful future of an infant who fails to get into Manhattan's most exclusive nursery school.

Occasionally, however, isolated gems begin to glitter. Comfort Tobias is a horse whisperer somewhere in Texas: "but she suffered a nervous breakdown when the horse whispered back. `What stunned me most,' she recalled, `was that he knew my social security number.'"

Another piece, entitled Thus Ate Zarathustra includes some of Nietzsche's favourite recipes and the Kantian theory of ordering in restaurants: "'Order like you are ordering for every human being on earth,' Kant advises; but what if the man next to you doesn't eat guacamole?" Then there's Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil Flapjacks and Will to Power Salad Dressing, not to mention Spinoza's Stir-Fried Shrimp and Vegetables.

A patchy collection, but enough wins through to suggest that Woody Allen has lost none of his bite.
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on 31 December 2009
I'm a big fan of his movies and have a lot of his books as well. It's a collection of short stories and I'm sure if a fan you're going to enjoy it, but it doesn't have the energy of his earlier collections, Without Feathers or Getting Even, both of which I loved.
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on 18 October 2007
OK: what would you guess Woody Allen would write about after these uneventful 25 years since his last volume of essays? You might well say matrimonial strife, court cases, movies and movie making, and a tell-tale nanny! Well, viola!

A book of humourous essays is a hard act to pull off. But Allen's done it three times before to acclaim. Being highly individual, if not unique, as a humourist, the real question here is how does this collection compare with his previous volumes?

Well, he's done it again. This could be no one else. It's brilliantly inventive and brilliantly written. It's tightly written, too. He is as distinctive a voice as there is. Yet there are qualifications.

Mere Anarchy does not have quite the range of styles and voices as in previous volumes. There is not the winning third person style of the Count Dracula story in Getting Even, for example.

Woody has been doing some reading and a number of quite rare and abstract words repeat themselves. Allen's use of language is stunning: he dazzles, but sometimes bemuses, too.

Humour based on absurdity must be followed to be appreciated properly. The density of the vernacular in some stories borders, occasionally, on the impenetrable. It's an enjoyable ride even then.

The vernacular is a New York Jewish patter that reads as it might be delivered: staccato. It's prevalent in the earlier stories, which suggests one could read the collection backwards. I read it twice and found it easier that way.

Most people who will read this will be Woody fans. We will forgive him more or less any inflexion, based on more or less unconditional love. Casual admirers have probably dwindled. If you are one, don't let this quibble put you off. It's a collection that showers you with so many sparks its good to re-read and absorb some of the fireworks that were disguised the first time.

Here are some highlights in reverse order.

Pinchuck's Law. "There was only one health food store that sold really deadly mushrooms, but it stopped years ago when it turned out they weren't organically grown." Magnificent work but it stops too soon!

Surprise Rocks Disney Trial. Mickey Mouse gives testimony. This has the lovely image of Warren Beatty taking Petunia Pig to the Cannes Film Festival. Amusing and sweet.

Thus Ate Zarathustra. The lost diet book of Friedrich Nietzsche. "..the circumference of any man is equal to his girth multiplied by pi.". Reminiscent of some of Woody's earlier work as are the two above; amusing but it doesn't quite strike jackpot.

Above the Law, Below the Box Springs. "It wasn't long before Stubbs and Doxy Nash began having a secret affair, although she soon found out about it." A charming silly small town tale of consumer rights.

Strung Out. "What I do know about physics is that to a man standing on the shore, time passes quicker than to a man on a boat - especially if the man on the boat is with his wife." A funny essay with several styles mixed together and mastery of pace and delivery. Allen at his best.

Attention Geniuses: Cash Only. A songwriter who pays his psychoanalysis bills in kind. This is a good tale hampered by obscurity - for the non-Jewish reader anyway.

On a Bad Day You Can See Forever. One of several references to financial ruin ("..the wallet in my breast pocket began to flutter like a hooked flounder") about a disastrous renovation. Stifled by over-clever or over-Jewish or NY references, but with laugh-out loud lines, too.

Sing, You Sacher Tortes. There is no denying the exceptional inventiveness of the Allen brain, but it is matched by the New York lingo of the first two paragraphs. And punctuated by gems. ("How does Mahler triumph over his fear of death? I asked." "By dying. I figured it out - it's really the only way.") A tale of a musical about infidelity and philosophers.

The Rejection. A swipe at snobbery among investment bankers.

Caution, Falling Moguls. A funny story neatly delivered about a movie mogul "two years over schedule on an eight week shoot".

Glory Hallelujah, Sold! Another neat idea and again, beautifully delivered and concluded. Allen's endings are central to the success of his tales. This one is about litigious clients buying bespoke prayers. ("Read the tiny letters on your prayer confirmation contract. Spells out our liability and His.")

How Deadly Your Taste Buds, My Sweet. A superbly fluent and absurd private eye story on the trail of the Mandalay Truffle.

Nanny Dearest. A wry yarn on a couple whose nanny is writing a book about their private lives, with a twist ending.

Calisthenics, Poison Ivy, Final Cut. An exchange of letters about the cut from a movie by a boy after film camp ... a belter, disguising a myriad of wonderful insults.

This Nib for Hire. Flanders Mealworm is seduced to prostitute his literary gift for B movie cash. Dosed with NY vernacular, unfortunately some sentences swallow like unshelled eggs.

Sam, You Made the Pants too Fragrant. Set in Savile Row with suits of the future (inspired by the NY Times) they still speak like Jewish New Yorkers. Beautifully written for all that and a deliciously visual idea, as are many of these pieces. You can sense mini screenplays.

Tandoori Ransom. This is a over embellished again but is an enjoyable story about the kidnap of an actor's body double.

To Err is Human, to Float, Divine. Smeared with the lingo but this story of levitation and dematerialisation benefits, as it really is a very amusing sidewalk tale of hocus pocus.

It's an excellent collection and benefits from a second read when the strong NY `dialect' grates less and one can appreciate Woody's enduring distinctiveness and originality. It sits well with his other volumes and tells us his faculties and ambitions as a writer remain close to top gear. He's 72 now. Let's hope it doesn't take him another 25 years before the next volume...
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on 1 December 2015
Like other reviewers I have read his previous work and was expecting a similar standard.

I was really disappointed. Have read about half of the book and have hardly even smiled let alone laughed. According to other reviewers it doesn't get any better so I probably wont bother with the rest.

Other have been kind, perhaps through a sense of loyalty, but my honest opinion is that one star is a fair mark for this very disappointing effort.
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on 7 August 2015
Seems dated, not nearly as fresh, clever, funny or timeless as some of his other novels and stories. I think Allen does best with the high concept short story. I didn't finish it, though, so perhaps it got better.
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on 7 January 2016
Woody Allen is such a brilliant writer, one can hear him reading the book out loud! Great book, very funny.
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on 20 June 2015
Typical Allen, witty, sometimes a little surreal, always entertaining.
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