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Henry told Carson about Marleen.

Carson wanted to know if he got into her pants.

Henry told him no, but that he probably would before long.

“What? You probably will?”

“I don’t know. I’ve changed my ideas about a lot of things.”

“What happened?”

“I started reading the Bible.”

Have you ever read the Book of Revelation? It’s top. Like many bookish teenagers I suspect I first sought it out because it is quoted so liberally in poorly written sf dystopias. See also for Yeat’s The Second Coming. This is what the apocalypse was for me – an entertaining mythological fantasy. It’s got monsters and vast armies and cataclyms. Great stuff.

Of course the Bible on the whole, as observed by both Douglas Rushkoff and Alex Droog, is filled with fantastical creatures and horrific violence. Not quite the stern moral text familiar to us from childhood religion classes.

This novel touches on the ambiguity of the Bible itself as an analogy for the seeming innocence of its principle character, Henry Dampier, a young Bible-salesman. Henry is picked up by Preston Clearwater, a professional car-thief and con-man on the look out for a gullible mark to help him rip off a number of cars. With his polite Baptist manners and folksy stories about his family, the criminal believes he has hit the jackpot.

He tells Henry that he is an undercover FBI operative, on the trail of a car-theft ring, operating between North Carolina and Georgia. The young man swallows the lie whole and excitedly promises not to reveal to anyone Preston’s secret. Together they scope out likely targets, steal cars and divide the proceeds – all, Preston assures his young ward, in the aid of preserving their cover.

What he does not realize is that Henry is actually quite a deep thinker. For one thing, he’s been reading his Bible and begun to notice a number of inconsistencies. His whole moral compass has become thrown out of skew. When he meets the charming Marleen Green, a girl working at a fruit-stall by the side of the road, he figures if sex outside of marriage is good enough for Abraham, it’s good enough for him.

I really enjoy how this book plays with stereotypes of the naieve young man with devout beliefs and then turns them on their head. Henry is introduced to us as this simple-minded Bible salesman, but slowly as he comes to question the word of God, we learn more about his past and his complicated family history. His Baptist background, once again, is assumed to be dominated by religion, but he is encouraged by his Uncle Jack, for one, to notice how people who identify religious curiousity as blasphemy generally don’t know the answer to the question.

Cleverly the judgement call made by Preston Clearwater is linked to the reader’s initial perception of poor Henry. By challenging this, Clyde Edgerton transforms a seemingly simple yarn about a con-artist and his dupe into something more thoughtful.

Personally it called to mind my own adolescent hero-worship of Bill Hicks, born in Georgia, fiercely intelligent and fond of claiming that he was not just a comedian, but a modern-day preacher. When he died at age 32 he had single-handedly created a critical ethos that transformed contemporary political satire.

The book is written with a dry sense of humour, with several comical moments notably involving cats. The character of Mrs Albright enjoys ventriloquism and throws her voice so that her many cats, named after the apostles, seem capable of speech. There is also a hysterical burial scene, which gives an early hint at Henry’s powers of improvisation.

However, at times the narrative is too dry, the plot progression too sedate. I never really felt Henry was in any danger. Everything just resolves itself quite nicely, as if in a easy-going Biblical parable set in the American South. What starts as ostensibly a two-man story about Henry and Preston quickly comes to concern the former almost entirely, with the con-man shoved to the narrative margins.

To my mind this creates an imbalance in the story and I found myself wondering what Patricia Highsmith would have made of similar material. Something more poisonous no doubt, but wickedly funny.

All in all this is a pleasant and diverting satire, with a wise young hero whose inquisitiveness introduces much of the humour. Good fun.

There is a more radical way of thinking about war: in merely formal terms, in terms of internal consistency, by reflecting on its conditions of possibility – the conclusion being that you cannot make war because the existence of a society based on instant information, rapid transport, and continuous intercontinental migration, allied to the nature of the new technologies of war, has made war impossible and irrational. War is in contradiction with the very reasons for which it is waged.

If you have ever read The Name of the Rose perhaps you remember the passage when the character William of Baskerville explains to his young companion that the Latin language only survived the Dark Ages courtesy of Irish monks, who preserved what they could of it, along with numerous religious texts. Of course they could not retain the entirety of the language itself, so Umberto Eco alleges, the Irish invented it.

My people made up Latin. I do not care if that is not true – I love the anecdote.

This collection of essays represents some of Eco’s philosophical work, as opposed to his scholarly fictional novels. The theme of the pieces is broadly moralistic, with discussions of the 1991 Gulf War, the Italian press and a definition of fascism, taken from a speech given to an audience at Columbia University on 25 April 1995.

There is also an exchange with a Jesuit cardinal on the nature of God that draws heavily on Eco’s own personal reflections on religion. Eco’s warm and quizzical tone in the letter reveals a man more interested in the flow of the debate, than in achieving victory. While he has broken from his Catholic faith, he admits to still experiencing a shock of blasphemy when he witnesses a failure to abide by the strictures of faith in others. This is an admission of how much his Christian background informs his worldview, regardless of his own development as a thinker. He proposes to his correspondent Carlo Mario Martini a thought experiment. What if an alien species were to observe the human race arrive at the creation of a fictional Jesus Christ and live according to principals of compassion and love on the basis of that conception. Would that not justify the role of religion, despite existing in a universe that was an ‘accident’, of creation without any divine presence?

His assessment of the Italian media points out that politics and television have developed an increasingly close relationship, where the pursuit of soundbites and closely managed personalities have replaced the desire for factual investigation. He traces the emergence of televised media in Italy, its influence on the political arena, with Silvio Berlusconi particular symptomatic of the new order. He even predicts the role the internet could play in individual households, encouraging an insularity in its users that would remove any interest in a broader understanding in current affairs:

But a homemade paper could say only what users are interested in, and would cut them off from a flow of potentially stimulating information, judgements, and alerts; it would rob them of the chance to pick up, leafing through the rest of a conventional newspaper, unexpected or undesired news.

Eco’s assessment of the changing face of war bears almost more relevance today than it did during the 1991 conflict in the Gulf. I am reminded of how when the second invasion of Iraq by allied forces began, all of Bill Hicks’ early nineties material was funny again. His writing on the media proliferation, with managed coverage of the conflict versus the fracturing of war narratives due to multiple sources of media, feels prophetic in the present day era of uncensored video clips on youtube, or the multiplicities of websites with wildly divergent views on the war. Eco’s take on this is far more accessible to a general readership than, say Jean Baudrillard‘s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.

His paper on the history of fascism is fascinating in how he defines what Italian fascism was not, drawing once again upon his own childhood growing up in Mussolini‘s Italy. While it shared with other totalitarian systems certain traits, such as the cult-worship of a dictator, Italian fascism, Eco insists, had no distinct philosophy, merely endless triumphalist rhetoric. What he terms Ur-Fascism is in fact a rejection of the values of The Enlightenment, embracing irrationalism.

Eco’s writing is both personable and not overly erudite, edifying the reader, while also charming. A fantastic introduction to the Italian philosopher.


I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough. My legs seemed to move slower and slower as I fought my way through the callous crowd, but the hands on the huge clock tower didn’t slow. With relentless, uncaring force, they turned inexorably toward the end–the end of everything.

Lady, I hear ya.

It’s almost been a year since the events of the first book and Bella Swan’s birthday has come round. Turning eighteen only serves to remind her that she is growing older, while her vampire boyfriend Edward remains seventeen. And a high school senior! So things are already not proceeding that smoothly for the ‘teenage’ couple when they decide to celebrate Bella’s birthday at the Cullen family household. Then Edward’s adopted brother Jasper is sent into a frenzy at the sight of Bella’s blood caused by a small papercut. As this confirms the worst fears of Bella’s vampire swain, he decides to leave her and the town of Forks, taking his family with him to some unknown destination.

Abandoned by Edward, Bella falls into a deep depression, only surfacing when she reacquaints herself with Jacob Black, who still nurses a crush on her. She enjoys his company and so tries to insist that their relationship is simply a friendship. Jacob proves to be extremely persistent, taking her gentle refusals with good humour and puppy-dog eyes. Still she cannot forget her passionate obsession for Edward Cullen and even begins to experience hallucinations of his presence when her life is in danger. Eventually Jacob’s warmth and affection slowly wears away her resolve and she starts to think of a life without Edward. Until one day he simply cuts off all contact. Feeling lost and bewildered she wanders into the forests surrounding Forks, only to meet Laurent, a member of the vampire pack that had hunted her the previous year. He brings her a message from Victoria. They’re going to kill her and with the Cullens gone, there is no one to protect her. Bella’s fate seems sealed, but then a pack of werewolves arrive to defend her. One of them even looks familiar to her. Are there any boys in Forks that are not mythical monsters!

Are we sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin. Perhaps my description of the plot implies that this is an exciting tale of danger. Well, it’s not. Not be a long shot. There are upswings of excitement in the narrative, but they come few and far between. I hate all the male characters. I am sick of the endless descriptions of Edward’s perfection and in this book Jacob’s muscular frame also heaves into view. The only other things Meyer seems interested in are cars! There’s a major disjunct in the story after the Cullens leave, with the plot of the first book seeming to repeat itself when Bella discovers yet another clan of fantasy creatures living nearby. As for the main character, I dislike how what little description of Bella we get show her to be a clumsy clod, a ‘magnet for danger’ and completely unable to cope without a man in her life. The religious subtext of the books also bothers me. Worst of all, Bella’s rejection by Edward leaves her an automaton, focused on being a ‘good girl’ for her dad, cooking, cleaning and keeping her grades up. She never feels any anger towards the vampire, which usually helps when you’ve had your heart broken.

On the other hand… I don’t like these books, but lots of folks do, so who am I to throw the first stone? After all I just reviewed Brandon Sanderson purely to get a bead on how he would finish up the Wheel of Time series and they are terrible books. Maybe the kids reading Twilight will grow out of them and find Jodi Piccoult. Or if they’re fans of the beefcake, maybe they’ll discover Anais Nin? Also if the Volturi are a dig at the Church of Rome, well I’m not too bothered by that. Hell it reminded me of a Bill Hicks quote. So I guess live and let live is my conclusion. I’m tired of all the obnoxious complaining about Twifans, as it only led to this.

Furthermore…Team Alice? Oh Meyer, you cad!

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