You typically trust first person narrative in a book. Yet, when the narrator keeps realizing that he has the narrative all wrong, it gets a little frustrating and it starts to remind you of a first person narrator who, from time to time, does get a little sketchy with past facts. Yep, that first person.
When schoolboy narrator Tony Webster is asked by his history teacher “What is history?” He replies that “History is the lies of the victors” to which he is given partial credit and warned that history is also “the self-delusions of the defeated.” Fast forward forty years and Tony sits atop his personal history as the loser of a few battles (e.g., his marriage, his grandpa-dom), but winner of the war, enjoying retirement.
His peaceful (his word) existence is interrupted, by an the old girlfriend’s mother bequeathing the diary of an old suicided school chum and 500 quid. This sends him sleuthing into his past and his discovering the narrative he has constructed for himself, does not fit the facts. There is an interesting plot twist at the end, however no real sense of ending for the reader. What’s up with the 500 smackers? The Diary? The behavior of the girlfriend? The cryptic brother?
Still a good read. Well written. Great observations on the past and one’s participation in their own life….”We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them.”
The title sets you up for a different sort of book, but it’s not about that. Sure Binx Bolling, goes to the movies, often and in earnest, but the book was more about coping with depression and the search for meaning. Binx, a New Orleans patrician with a Midas touch in the stock market and with the ladies, isn’t content to take his due place in polite society and put it on cruise control for 50-years. Instead, he is obsessed with his vertical, then horizontal “search.” The search with its “rotations” and “repetitions” is one for meaning and escape from tedium. As illustration, one morning Binx wakes up in the grip of everydayness. In such a state the search itself is not possible. In a fit of rage he rolls off the bed, the shock of which loosens the grip of the malaise and he vows “I’m a son of a bitch if I’ll be defeated by the everydayness.”
Binx has many interesting takes…on the upper class, liberals vs. conservatives, his Aunt’s black butler, Southern Belles springing from the loins of rednecks by the millions, the return to the same movie seat after a 14-year absence and being subjected to other people’s personal rays. You may think he is a little crazy, but you haven’t even met Cousin Kate yet.
While not quite Hesse, Walker Percy packs plenty of existentialism in the book. Not a must have on the book shelf, but bear in mind The Moviegoer did defeat Revolutionary Road, Catch 22, Franny & Zoey, and books by Maxwell and Malamud for the National Book Award, so any philosophical or literary friends that see it on your bookshelf will rate you a tad higher than they did when they came through the door.
It started off as quite the page turner, became a bit tangential then finished up OK. The whodunits are interesting, because you really don’t trust any of the characters except maybe Sam’s secretary, Effie. A bigger mystery are the scenes that go nowhere and leave the reader wondering what they were about. Sam however, doesn’t like wondering. He combats it by proclaiming he knows everything, so everyone else better start talking, which some do, but he doesn’t trust them anyway, so he remains incensed about the whole thing. He also must possess incredible charisma as he hurls his patented monkey wrenches to gum up the works and no one ditches or beats the urine out of him.
His charisma was validated, as to remain in the company of San Francisco’s #1 private dick (circa 1930, as today’s S.F. dick is another matter altogether), the Brothers retreated to the Illuminado’s Boethius Memorial Theater to watch the 1941 film version of the book. Bogie was a heck of a Sam Spade. Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, were stellar as well. But, it was pearls among swine as nearly everyone fell asleep. It takes a tiger in a Las Vegas bathroom, a male model walk-off or the No. 4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan to keep this crew awake after 9PM.
With giants as actors, The Maltese Falcon is a must see movie, but the book is optional.