Thursday, September 2, 2010

'The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts' by Louis de Bernieres

Every now and then you read a book that has little bits of magic in it, be they in the style or the story of it. The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts is a book coated in big, dirty swathes of magic. Whilst being grandiose and intimate at the same time, this tale of love, corruption and cruelty in an unnamed South American state contains both belly-laughs and enough viciousness to make you weep for the world on virtually every page.

When you stop to consider that this was de Bernieres' debut effort you will start to weep for all the writers who never manage to demonstrate an ounce of this man's vision or ambition within their entire careers. If I'd ever gotten around to reading more than one short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez I have a feeling that I'd be drawing most favourable comparisons right now.
Minor quibbles (if only because no-one enjoys relentless positivity) are that there are an awful lot of Spanish slang words to get your head around, and an awful lot of characters to follow. But really, these things matter not a whit, as this is one bad-ass muchacho of a book.


Kieran said...

Good stuff - great to see a great writer being appreciated. I stumbled on this book a few years ago and practically got addicted to his prose. And you might be right on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez hunch - hard to compare (it is a bit like comparing Flann O'Brien with James Joyce), but this trilogy reminded me of 100 Years of Solitude if it had been written by someone you'd like to go for a pint with rather than someone who you would have liked to have had as your university tutor.

So yeah, it is one of those books that can make grown men cry and laugh and cry again.

And if you think this is good, Senor Vivo is even better, and by the time I finished Cardinal Guzman I was emotionally exhausted. (I'm guessing you know it's the first in a trilogy, which makes the vision and ambition even more impressive).

I had to wait a year to get his voice out of my head (he has a great narrator's voice) before I went and read Birds without Wings, which is also really good, if a bit same-same, doing for Turkey what this does for South America.

Then again I read and liked Captain Corelli's Mandolin when it first came out, so my opinion is probably not worth very much.

Anyway, sorry for the long comment, but I am actually jealous that you have two more of these ahead of you. Enjoy.

Andrew said...

Long comments are more than welcome, Kieran, especially as yours adds a lot to what was quite a superficial review by me of a very rich book.
I started Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord over the weekend and I think you might be right about it being even better.

Jo said...

I think this was the one I found too hard to read. Because of the nasty bits. I mean, I read it, but I am just too much of a sensitive wimp to enjoy that sort of thing, and always wish I hadn't a bit as the bad feeling stays with me.

Having said that, he is so good, I did read a couple of his.

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