Friday 13 January 2017

Brona's Salon: Satire

This year's Booker has been awarded to satire - again! I was dreading The Sellout winning the Booker because I really don't want to tackle another satire. No matter how worthy it may be.

Satire is used to highlight the foolishness or vices within a society of group. It can be categorised further into irony, sarcasm, exaggeration, ridicule and parody.

I don't mind some satire - some of my favourite books are satire - Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Fraction of the Whole, The World According to Garp and Northanger Abbey for instance.

I enjoyed studying The Loved One, The Importance of Being Ernest and Animal Farm at school.
I have also appreciated the message/warning that is behind books like A Brave New World, Lord of the Flies and 1984.

But I often just get tired of the joke (I'm thinking of you Catch-22 and Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett and dare I say Douglas Adams - I adored Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but I got very tired by the fifth book).

Or they just leave me cold (Cold Comfort Farm, Solar, The Finkler Question, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange).

Garry Trudeau stated in an article in The Atlantic recently that,
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful.

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books said,
satire alludes to recognizable contemporary circumstances in a skewed and comic way so as to draw attention to their absurdity. There is mockery but with a noble motive: the desire to bring shame on some person or party behaving wrongly or ignorantly. Its raison d’ȇtre over the long term is to bring about change through ridicule; or if change is too grand an aspiration, we might say that it seeks to give us a fresh perspective on the absurdities and evils we live among, such that we are eager for change.
Since satire has this practical and pragmatic purpose, the criteria for assessing it are fairly simple: if it doesn’t point toward positive change, or encourage people to think in a more enlightened way, it has failed. 

I think the reason I often struggle with satire is that I have trouble seeing the 'noble motive', all I see is the 'mockery'. So I decided to circumvent the noble worthy motive and go straight to the heart of black comedy with this month's featured book for Brona's Salon.

Brona's Salon is a new meme which aims to gather a group of like-minded bookish people 'under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.'

I will provide a bookish prompt or two to inspire our conversation.
However please feel free to discuss your current read or join in the conversation in any way that you see fit.
Amusement, refinement and knowledge will surely follow!

What are you currently reading?

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

How did you find out about this book?

I was researching books set in Cuba to read in preparation for our trip to Cuba.
This was first on every list I found.

Yes *squeal* we're going to Cuba!

Why are you reading it now? 

Because our trip to Cuba is very, very soon!

First impressions? 

"Mr. Wormold, vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of powercuts, is, as always, short of money. His daughter, sixteen, followed everywhere by wolf whistles, is spending his money with a skill that amazes him, so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income he's tempted. All he has to do is run agents, file reports: spy. But his fake reports have an alarming tendency to come true, and the web of lies he weaves around him starts to get more and more tangled."

Which character do you relate to so far?

I'm not sure you're meant to relate to any of these characters?
(which is another problem I often have with satire & it's related sub-genres)

Are you happy to continue?


Where do you think the story will go? 

I suspect they will get busted, but that it will all be covered up or glossed over.
The typical colonial experience when the British come to stay!

What has your experience with satire and black comedy been?


  1. I'm not a huge fan of satire either, largely because I end up not caring about the characters. However I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed American Psycho - I'd have bet a significant sum I'd have hated it, but I actually grew quite fond of the awful Patrick. Which worried me! ;) I haven't read Our Man in Havana, but I do love Greene in general, so I hope you enjoy it. And your trip to Cuba!!

    1. Lack of attachment to the characters is my biggest beef with satire too.

      I'm impressed you finished (& enjoyed) American Psycho - I think you're the first person I know who has done so!

      It was fabulous to be reading Greene whilst actually in Cuba. It added extra flavour & colour to the story. I could smell the smells, feel the heat & humidity, hear the everyday sounds.

  2. Anonymous14/1/17

    Wow, a trip to Cuba! That's great! My aunt has been twice, and she loved it. I enjoy subtle satire much more than the obvious one, the one that hits you over the head with a stick with all its satire. Needless to say that I enjoy Austen's satire much more than Animal Farm or 1984.

    1. My preference is the more subtle satires too. They allow me to feel attached to the characters. And when I care about them & what happens to them, I'm more likely to experience the shift in perception talked about above.

      PS Cuba is amazing!!!!!!!!

  3. Anonymous14/1/17

    I just added my 'updated' link to Brona's Salon!
    Hope you are having a wonderful vacaton!

    1. Thanks Nancy, Cuba is fantastic. So many new impressions, perceptions & ideas. Loving it, even after a 24hr tummy bug.

  4. I'm not a big fan of satire either, but am curious enough about The Sellout that I may give it a try if it's on the shelf at the library. The only Graham Greene I've read is The End of the Affair... Our Man in Havana sounds very timely for you. I'm loving all your photos from Cuba!

    1. This is my third Greene. I've also read The End of the Affair and The Quiet American.

      Still processing it as it's all caught up in my experiences & memories of Cuba.

  5. I came here to see if you ever reviewed Cold Comfort Farm and LOVE this article! I do think satire is like coconut - you like it or don't. (maybe way TOO simplified?) Anyway, I never actually finished The Sellout but laughed with the parts I did read.
    and HOW WAS CUBA? :)

    1. CUBA was amazing! We loved every single moment. You can see some of our photos here

      I think the coconut comparison is apt - I like dried, shredded coconut but not the milk or the fresh fruit.


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