the narrator is hired to ghost-write the autobiography of Tobold the Hamburger King. a kind of steve ballmer larry ellison dick cheney rupert murdoch lex luthor mashup. full of spot-on recognitions. and while it doesn’t do so much to complicate the archetype and plot of the amoral and ruthless capitalist (of course born in poverty, self-made, lonely-at-the-top), it does provide a sharp insight into the artist class’s response: servility, impotence, hypocrisy and envy.

the last third disappoints in that it tries to give Tobold, its embodiment of the Free Market,  a tortured conscience. the move feels false and sentimental. and makes the book drag.

but first two thirds are a nice rip. here’s a page:

I ended up thinking that brutality, calculation, profit-oriented thinking and contempt for all things spiritual (all qualities that are required to be worthy of being called an investor) were not only respected by everyone, but promoted and praised. People saw them as assets, as stenghts, as indispensable guarantors of success, so much so that it had become impossible to scoff at them.

Times are vulgar, I told myself in the prudish and bombastic tone of those who believe themselves to be exempt from the criticisms they throw at others.

The ancient civility of Old Europe is dead, I told myself. This argument provided me infinite consolation since by itself it justified all of my powerlessness.

I told myself with a sickening complacency that if tact were to be considered a weakness from then on, if erudition was thought of as pretension, self-effacement as a disorder, and manners as a hindrance to fun, then it made perfect sense that I found myself in this fucked-up situation. It was perfectly normal that I didn’t have a place in this world. It was inevitable that I would always be out of touch, isolated, unable to join the crowd, solitary. So it is with artists.

Vulgarity is ruining the world, it’s making a mess of things, I told myself. I was never short on indignation. And this charge that I was leveling against the spirit of the times somehow compensated for the sum of my daily spineless concessions (130-1).


Warren Motte on Lydie Salvayre

pick it up from the publisher or get it from your local library.

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