Book Review: The Straight Banana, by Tim Wilson

 

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_straight_bananaIn all honesty, I was dubious about this book from the start. While Tim Wilson certainly wins points for creativity in the presentation of his novel, The Straight Banana as a whole, missed the mark for me, despite the potential for it to work. Even as ridiculous as the plot seemed initially (which it certainly delivered on) it could’ve been a comedic, fictional spin on real world events, highlighting the ridiculousness of how the world can at times be. But instead it was a confusing plot with vague and unclear motives.

The ‘hero’ of the story is Thomas Tudehope Milde; a stereotypical character of this sort of genre – having potential, never really achieving it, making poor decisions, an underdog, or as described throughout the novel an ‘Omega’ as opposed to an ‘Alpha’. Milde is a somewhat irritating character largely due to his lack of sobriety throughout the novel, which in itself does seem to be accurate in how being under the influence of some sort of substance would be, yet it is frustrating because of how incoherent the writing becomes, apparently to give insight into the mind of Thomas Milde. Of course being the central focus of the novel, you find yourself wanting him to succeed but his personality and choices mean this doesn’t appear to be a highly likely outcome, which as a reader left me feeling disappointed in the character and frustrated by his foolishness. His situation seems so hopeless that it leaves you disheartened and wanting to re-write his story for a better set of circumstances.

I did find The Straight Banana engaging at times, when the plot and point was realized a bit more and when it felt like it was heading in some direction. At these points I felt like I couldn’t put the book down and I needed to know what would happen to the washed up foreign news correspondent that is Thomas Milde. However, these times where more often then not interrupted by the disorganized nature of the novel. It would migrate from an orderly and conventional novel to a jumpy thought process that was supposed to be Thomas Milde’s, yet still in the third person narration that made up the rest of the novel.  It was hard to follow and I found myself having to go back several times to try and piece together what the subject at hand was, making the whole thing disjointed and as a result, unengaging.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this will appeal to those who would view Tim Wilson’s new novel as an interesting way of writing that should be explored more.  It is also plausible that this book would have been a lot more engaging had I read Tim Wilson’s previous novel featuring Thomas Milde; News Pigs.  It may have provided enough background to have an attachment to Milde himself and also enough context to The Straight Banana to have properly enjoyed it.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Straight Banana
by Tim Wilson
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560875

 

Book Review: News Pigs, by Tim Wilson

Available in bookstores this April 2014.

With its unconventional style and a helter-cv_news_pigsskelter, relentless plot, it took me a while to find myself immersed in this semi-satirical, darkly humongous tale. News Pigs is written almost like a stream of consciousness, and shamelessly thumbs its nose at the basic “rules” (aka guidelines) associated with writing: there are exclamation marks a-plenty, footnotes scattered about but once one gets used to the technique (about one-two chapters in) it really makes for a compelling read. So compelling, in fact, that one is tempted to begin again once they are finished, so that they can re-experience the first-chapter events within the greater context.

It is highly amusing − although some of the jokes went over my head − and filled with over-the-top instances and madcap pacing. Tom Milde is a poet and, to put it frankly, a bit of a no-hoper, when entirely by chance he receives his big break: the chance to travel across to report-from-the-scene of the greatest gun massacre America has ever known − named the Santa Shooter. What follows is an insane comedy of errors involving rival journalists, posh-boy rednecks, a rare manuscript, an orphaned red shoe, a foul-mouthed editor (all the swear words being transformed into strings of symbols, ie: “$#*!”) and a distinct lack of sleep and food on the part of poor Tom. The narrative is relentless, pebbled with social satire, littered with subtle digs at New Zealanders, Aussies and people from the PLC (a fictional country situated somewhere near New Zealand from which Milde originates), Americans, news reporters (from which profession the author hails), and NRA lobbyists. Pretty much everyone Milde encounters along the way is taking the mickey of someone or something.

Despite the almost-haphazard structure, it is actually very precise, very deliberate and extremely clever. The sort of story that digs its claws in, dragging you with it (not *quite* kicking and screaming) and forces you to stay up well after midnight so that you can finish it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

News Pigs
by Tim Wilson
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739179

News Pigs gets it first outing in Auckland on Tuesday next week. If you’re around, please drop into Corner Bar, Hotel de Brett on Tues 8 April, 6pm-7.30pm.