Monday, 10 August 2009

Me Cheeta


This is my first review of a book from the Booker longlist since its announcement (links to the ones I read before their nomination can be found here) and when I embarked on reading it in full. Let me preface this post by saying that I will review each and every longlisted title that I manage to read. Reading the longlist is already opening me up to some books that I may not have read otherwise and overall I am hoping that it will be a rewarding and enriching experience. By writing down my thoughts on all the nominees I think it will make easier for me to objectively choose the title that I would like to win as well as potentially encouraging others, who aren't reading the longlist themselves, to pick up a title that they normally wouldn't read.

Me Cheeta : The Autobiography by James Lever is the inclusion on the list that surprised most people; some saw it as a novelty, others a travesty, and I saw it as an opportunity (although the cynic in me wonders if it was merely a token gesture). The fictional autobiography of Cheeta the chimpanzee, companion of Tarzan on the silver-screen, Me Cheeta (an allusion to Tarzan's catch-phrase) is a satire of the golden-age of Hollywood. I laughed out-loud from the spoof-memoir's "Note to the Reader" and for the majority of the first section when Cheeta is liberated from the African jungle and "rehabilitated" in the jungle that is Hollywood.

If you're a star, Hollywood is a playground, and if you're not, they're right, it is a jungle. It's a town of heartless bottom-lines and harsh decisions and betrayals so ugly that from time the very earth beneath it shudders in contempt, like its teeth have been set on edge.

However, the novelty wore off some and although I still found it amusing in parts and overall I enjoyed it, I did feel it was dry in places.

The concept is incredibly clever; Me Cheeta reads like a real memoir and Cheeta is a fabulous (and most importantly, a believable) narrator but I wasn't fully engaged in Thirties and Forties Hollywood, despite a few cameos from more alluring stars and a definite sense of the period. In my opinion the first half is stronger than the second but perhaps that is because it concerns a more amusing and happier time, when Cheeta was at the height of his career, but the sadness of the memories of a has-been star in the latter half is less humorous. Its strength certainly seems to be in its complete credibility as a memoir, down to its photographs, filmography and index. I greatly admire its achievement and its wit; Cheeta's perception of the human world is that of a primate as a guest in it and misunderstandings and confusion ensue:

I overheard William Powell tell Jane Russell that 'The two inevitable things in life, as Mark Twain had it, are death and taxis'. Taxis, sure: wherever there are humans there'll be cars, there's no doubting that. And those cars will doubtless always include taxis. But death?

The language is quite colourful at times and the content a little lewd, probably the sections that I found hilarious are the ones that make them cringe.

Cheeta interacts with the implied reader frequently providing it with more of an authentic feel (yes, there were even times that I could easily suspend my disbelief and believe I was being addressed by a chimpanzee). He informs, shows, tells and instructs:

In fact, unless I specifically inform you otherwise, every single action performed by an adult human male in this memoir can be thought of as an attempt to attract the attention of some sexually receptive females.

It is all very tongue-in-cheek and refreshing. Did it change my life? No. Do I think it will win the Booker? No, but chimpanzees might fly.

Next I expect a sequel to this attempt with the autobiography of Bubbles, the chimpanzee who lived with Michael Jackson in Neverland.


20 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

Great review! I'm really looking forward to discovering what it is like for myself.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Jackie. I'm excited about comparing notes.

savidgereads said...

Oh I am sorry the novelty wore off, I am planning on reading this as a reward to myself when I finish Wolf Hall which is daunting me and I feel I may need something lighter and funnier after!

Sophie said...

Really interested to read a review of this as I've been wondering what it's like and if it's actually any good. I'm pleased to hear it's at least worth a look, although I must admit that I too wonder if it's been included on the list as a novelty 'the Booker can be fun too' token gesture...

Paperback Reader said...

I wasn't as clear as I could have been: the novel was still clever and its originality never irritated or grew old but it did grow less funny as time went on but then old age set in and that is less humorous.

I am sure it will still provide you with lighter comic relief post Wolf Hall!

Paperback Reader said...

Sophie, it is definitely worth a look! I'm glad that I'm not the only cynic :).

anothercookiecrumbles said...

Don't know, but of all the books on the Booker longlist, this looks the most unappealing. Maybe because I'm not into Hollywood that much, or maybe because it sounds gammy... However, your review intrigues me, and now I'm half-tempted to look into this. What to do? What... to do?!

Paperback Reader said...

Anothercookie, it's funny how one book can appeal to some and be completely unappealing to others; this was one of the ones that intrigued me.

The great things about reviews -whether the reviewer liked it or disliked it- is that they often intrigue people so that they read the book to make up their own mind.

Darlene said...

Tarzan walks in on Jane cooking supper. "Oh not finch and chimps again!" Sorry, couldn't help it Claire, that one's been in the vault for years.

Paperback Reader said...

Hah. It's okay, Darlene; I forgive you.

verity said...

Hmm - interesting. I have to say that although it's a clever concept, it's not one that appeals to me at all. I'm still intrigued by its conclusion, and I was particularly interested in a recent interview I saw with the writer who said he would give anything to have time to re-write bits of it, he had been under much time pressure in case the chimp died while it was being written!

Paperback Reader said...

I think there are parts that could benefit from a rewrite and the ending is mediocre. I liked the concept and its either the selling point or detractor.

robotbooks said...

I'm working my way through the long list, or at least what the public library has available, and this one is coming up soon for me. Definitely an interesting choice - I had no idea what it was about. On one hand it's good to see some humor cropping up on the list, but I wonder how it will hold to the rest of the novels. So far I've read two of the books - Brooklyn and The Little Stranger - and I'm not sure what to take away from 2009s long list.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi robotbooks, thanks for commenting :). So far I have read 4 of the 13 longlisted titles and I don't think I'll know what to make of the list overall until I've read them all. The humour was refreshing but I don't think it will beat off the more serious texts.
The majority of the longlist I have borrowed from the library but this one I immediately bought as it was a cheap paperback on Amazon.

kimbofo said...

Did you see the review of this on Newsnight Review last week? It really divided opinion.

Funnily enough, I love memoirs, but this isn't one I plan on reading. Nothing to do with your review, I've just got too many other books vying for my attention and this one doesn't sound like my cup of tea at all.

Paperback Reader said...

Kim, I didn't but I wonder if I can catch it on iplayer?

I think this one either appeals or doesn't; if it wasn't for challenging myself to read the Booker longlist I wouldn't have picked it up either as there are too many other books vying for my attention too.

Bianca Winter said...

Hello

It's nice to be connecting with someone who has the same crazy mission as me, so well met, and all that.
Your review of Me, Cheeta is interesting, and I'm glad you have the objectivity to recognise its strengths. I'm sadly finding it really dull, and about the best I can say is that I, too, sometimes really buy in to the chimp-as-author thing. It's the endearing factor that makes me want to finish it!
Anyway, thanks for being a good role model for rigourous reviewing - I totally agree that this is the only way to really plump for a winner. I look forward to more conversations in the weeks to come!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Bianca, thanks for commenting. It is great to meet you too and know that there are others following the Booker (farmlanebooks and savidgereads, who have both commented, are also reading the longlist). It is quite the mission but I am having fun so far.
Me Cheeta is dull in parts, agreed, but I hate not finishing a book unless I don't like it in the slightest, especially for this challenge. I'm focusing on being objective.
I hope we enjoy the coming weeks.

Samantha said...

I think you "hit the nail on the head" with your review. I definitely did tire of this book but it was a clever concept and funny in places.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Samantha. I was bored at times and wanted to be reading something far more interesting and entertaining.