Archive for July, 2009

Tomas – James Palumbo

July 17, 2009

Tomas - James PalumboI finished Tomas 2 days ago and I’m still digesting what I think. I spotted the book advertised on a billboard on London Bridge station and it immediately stood out.

The book’s cover was striking, simple and the poster came with some quotes that made it sound intriguing. Stephen Fry gave it a recommendation, plus I recognised James Palumbo’s name as the man behind the Ministry Of Sound – the centre of clubbing culture in the 90s.

So what’s Tomas about? Well, it’s basically a sharp satire of the rampant consumerism of the early 21st century: highly-paid professional footballers; money-grabbing merchant bankers; desire for plastic surgery; celebrity culture – many of the things that are currently being blamed for the onset of the recession.

Palumbo serves up surreal images and a kind of black comedy that is at turns extraordinarily funny, but also very difficult to read. Tomas is actually quite disturbing and shocking and the humour isn’t often strong enough to save it from becoming simply gruesome.

Many of Palumbo’s images and characters are cleverly drawn – representing Russia as a Great Bear is hardly new, but it works here – but the increasingly bizarre nature of the plot as the novel continues means that the characters become secondary.

By the time the book drew to a close, I was thoroughly confused and had less and less idea what was going on. The twist at the end simply served to baffle me even more.

On the plus side, Palumbo’s writing style is sharp and incisive at times and he has a turn of phrase is, at times, delightful. It will also be interesting to see how accurate a satire Tomas really is once history has its say on the first recession of the 21st century.

But overall, my feeling was that Tomas is a novel that is far too much like the flashy, insubstantial culture it sets out to debunk. Too much artifice and not enough delivery.

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