Friday, October 24, 2008

THE BUTT by WILL SELF


Social satire should be funny and incisive, making us take a long, hard look at ourselves and the society we live in, while giving us a good laugh in the process. Unfortunately, The Butt, by Will Self, does none of these things.

Tom Brodzinski, presumably an American--although his country of origin is never named, is on vacation with his wife and four children in a Third World, apparently African, country. The action in the novel is precipitated when Tom decides, while smoking what will be his last cigarette on the balcony of the family's hotel room, to quit. Not finding an ashtray in which to dispose of the smoldering butt, he flicks it off the balcony, flinching--but not thinking much more about it--when it lands on the bald pate of an elderly resident sunbathing on his own balcony.

As it turns out, the victim of Tom's crime (there are believed to be no accidents in this country), while an Anglo, is married to a native woman and so is protected by the laws of his adopted country. Tom, presumed guilty, is sentenced to deliver restitution--two good hunting rifles, a set of cooking pots, and ten thousand dollars--the the man's tribespeople thousands of miles away.

The feel of the novel is Kafkaesque--a sentence out of proportion to the nature of the crime, a judicial system which everyone except Tom seems to understand, an undercurrent of foreboding throughout--but in the end seems hollow, devoid of any particular meaning. And, while it seems as if it wants to be funny, it just isn't.

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