Friday, November 12, 2004

Book Review: Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk

This is a book written by Herman Wouk, who is probably best known for his epic historical novels detailing WWII (Winds of War and War and Remembrance.) Relatively short compared to those doorstoppers, this novel predates them by a number of years, having been published in 1965. A stark demonstration of how writers develop over time, Don't Stop the Carnival is nowhere near the quality of work that Wouk began to churn out later in his career.

It is the tale of disillusioned fool who decides to cash in his chips and head to a small island in the West Indies with his wife. Determined to embrace the simple idyllic life he buys a small resort and embarks on a series of ham-fisted adventures in his attempts to make the hotel operate efficiently with all manner of practical obstacles thrown in his way.

This is an all round lousy book. A maundering plot with undeveloped characters, the underlying theme is that by tossing it all and heading to some native paradise you are bound to encounter a new set of problems. Fraught with cliches and mildly amusing escapades, not a fuck of a lot happens throughout the entire story.

There are a few amusing exchanges such as when grizzled expat veterans of the island essentially mock the main character Paperman, enjoying a laugh at his boundless naivete and propensity to be swindled. There are a couple of good one-liners throughout, one that I have shamelessly cribbed on a few occasions, that being when some longtime sage sums up the human detritus that washes up on the shores of the island as the "freaks, frauds, fools and failures" who couldn't hack it in their home countries.

Besides that, what is the point of reviewing a book that was so uninspiring?

It is a single, eerily prescient short passage that appears early in the book, spoken by a bleeding heart , hippy type who is also the bane of the lead character for the simple fact that he, Klug, is fucking Paperman's daughter. In the passage in which they clash regarding fundamental values and worldviews shortly before Paperman makes the final break for the island, Klug raps out one of his anti-establishment set-pieces:

"Klug arched a surprised eyebrow at Norman. 'Exactly, late Freud. And sheer prophecy. Look at us. We build giant highways and murderously fast cars for killing each other and committing suicide. Instead of bomb shelters we construct gigantic frail glass buildings all over Manhattan at Ground Zero, a thousand feet high, open to the sky, like a woman undressing before an intruder and provoking him to rape her. We ring Russia's borders with missile-launching pads and then scream that she's threatening us. In all history there's never been a more lurid mass example of the sadist-masochist expression of the thanatos instinct than the present conduct of the United States. The Nazis by comparison were Eagle Scouts.' The Sending arched an eyebrow again at Norman. 'If I were you I'd buy that hotel in the West Indies tomorrow.'"