Tuesday 25 August 2009

The Brain-Dead Megaphone - George Saunders

Hmmm this is going to be a tricky little book to review because I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it ! It is a collection of unrelated essays that leaps from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, creating a constantly changing mish-mash of literary styles and voices that leave the reader in a whirlwind of confusion. There are fascinating descriptions of foreign lands, full of nuggets of surprising information, that are reminiscent of Bill Bryson's travel writing and transport the reader off for some serious armchair-travelling. Then we move from a fairly high-brow intellectual discussion of the literary merits of Mark Twain's novels, to a humoristic, totally deadpan, ridiculous narrative, full of stereotype, stupidity and misinformation, in the voice of a completely uninformed "white-trash" American who is absolutely clueless about the geography of the British Isles. The problem is, there is no indication of what we are reading - is this fact or fiction ? is he being serious or sarcastic ? - so nothing can be taken at face value and everything, even the seemingly factual, must be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

But that is exactly what the author wants. In the preface, he criticises the fact that in this day and age, "information" is available at the click of a button but that this "information" may be totally wrong. Everybody just listens to the man (or website or TV channel) with the loudest voice, even if the person talking is just a braindead individual with a megaphone drowning out the more reliable sources of information. By forcing the reader to question everything, he kicks back against the modern world of "lazy media, false promises and political doublespeak", evoked on the back of the book, and makes the individual think for himself.

The result is refreshing or irritating, depending on your point of view. As Saunders jumped from one narrative voice to another totally different one, I felt that I was listening to someone who was so good at taking on multiple identities that he would either make a fantastic stand-up comedian or else he should start counselling for a serious case of schizophrenia ! You'll have to read it and make up your own mind whether it's madness or total genius, as that is after all what the book is all about. Just don't take it all at face value, whatever you do !

star rating : 4/5

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (16 Mar 2009)
ISBN-10: 0747596417
ISBN-13: 978-0747596417

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