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Villa Incognito [Paperback]

Tom Robbins
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 27 2004
Imagine there are American MIAs who chose to remain missing after the Vietnam War. Imagine a family in which four generations of strong, alluring women share a mysterious connection to an outlandish figure from Japanese folklore. Imagine them part of a novel that only Tom Robbins could create—a magically crafted work as timeless as myth yet as topical as the latest international threat. But no matter how hard you try, you’ll never imagine what you’ll find inside the Villa Incognito: a tilt-a-whirl of identity, masquerade, and disguise that dares to pull off “the false mustache of the world” and reveal the even greater mystery underneath. For neither the mists of Laos nor the Bangkok smog, neither the overcast of Seattle nor the fog of San Francisco, neither the murk of the intelligence community nor the mummery of the circus can obscure the pure linguistic phosphor that illuminates every page of one of America’s most consistently surprising and inventive writers.

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Villa Incognito + Skinny Legs and All + Another Roadside Attraction
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From Publishers Weekly

Donald Barthelme once said, "Those who never attempt the absurd never achieve the impossible." Robbins (Still Life with Woodpecker; Jitterbug Perfume; etc.) has made a career of attempting and achieving both, and in this, his eighth novel, he pulls it off again. Here we have weirdness personified, a quirky, outrageous concoction that is a joy to the imagination. The novel begins with the story of Tanuki, a badgerlike Asian creature with a reputation as a changeling and trickster and a fondness for sake. Also part of the cast is a beautiful young woman who may or may not have Tanuki's blood in her veins (but definitely does have a chrysanthemum seed embedded in the roof of her mouth), and three American MIAs who have chosen to remain in Laos long after the Vietnam War. Events are set in motion when one of the MIAs, dressed as a priest, is arrested with a cache of heroin taped to his body. In vintage Robbins style, the plot whirls every which way, as the author, writing with unrestrained glee, takes potshots at societal pillars: the military, big business and religions of all ilks. The language is eccentric, electrifying and true to the mark. A few examples: "The afternoon passed more slowly than a walnut-sized kidney stone"; "He crooned the way a can of cheap dog food might croon if a can of cheap dog food had a voice"; "Dickie's heart felt suddenly like an iron piano with barbwire strings and scorpions for keys." While the ending is a bit of a letdown, this is delectable farce, full of tantalizing secrets and bizarre disguises.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Robbins opens with a folkloric tale, set in Japan, of a tanuki--a raccoonlike wild dog with enormous testicles and a thirst for sake--who marries a woman and sires a daughter before angry gods break up the union. Jumping to the present, the arrest of a drug-smuggling priest in Guam--actually an MIA American who disappeared on a bombing run over Vietnam--threatens to blow the cover of his flight crew, who chose to remain incognito in Laos after the war had ended. The two stories are linked by a circus performer who may be the descendant of the original interspecies romance. While the flyers are featured players, the supporting cast includes an earthy military intelligence officer, a cold-blooded CIA spook, and a woman with a sexual attraction to clowns. The largest theme centers on the nature of identity, but there's a lot swirling around the kitchen sink, including a fleeting incorporation of the events of 9/11. It's a fun read, although the things about Robbins that his fans love--clever wordplay, nudging asides, and political and philosophical digressions--are the same things that infuriate the nonbelievers, and for them, this short work may seem slow. He remains something of a poor man's Vonnegut, lacking the careful measure necessary to bake his notions into a cake that won't fall. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather Disappointing July 11 2004
Well, I'd just read "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates" after many years spent with no Tom Robbins books at all. I suppose I had basicallly forgotten about the man, although when I consider it now "Still Life" and "Skinny Legs & All" were mightily enjoyable reads. Anyway, I moved to Seattle and that, for obvious reasons, fueled a reinterest/rediscovery of Robbins. "Fierce Invalids" is certainly one of the best books I've read this year. On the other hand, soon after (perhaps too soon after) "Invalids", my curiousity piqued, I purchased "Villa Incognito". Yesterday, I finished the book. Today, I feel compelled to review it. I did like reading of the tanukis, and the first half or so of the novel was quite engaging. There were two main problems, I felt. A tiny smattering of the characters held some level of interest for me (namely, Madame Ko), but, all in all, I found the book to lack character development or even character definition. The other problem was the ending, which happened about 300 pages immature. I have a theory about this. It seems that Robbins was in the process of writing "Villa Incognito" when the 9/11 attacks happened. I think this affected his writing, because on September 11th (in the book) everything basically falls apart. We lose the plot, and the characters get lost too. Some die, some run away, but very little is actually brought to a point of closure. So I believe that on 9/11 he simply gave up on this book. That he just needed to wrap it up and go on to something else, a post-9/11 novel, at "Villa Incognito"'s (and the reader's) expense. Unfortunate timing, as well, because I do think the novel had great potential. And so I say: Rather Disappointing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Even sub-par Robbins makes me laugh July 10 2004
Modern readers are not used to intrusive narrators, a device that hearkens back to the earliest forms of the novel--Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, for example. I think that's one hurdle for many readers of Villa Incognito. Another hurdle, for me, was the slow start--the Tanuki/tanuki prologue was way too much foregrounding. Satire can't afford to take that much time to develop. Once Robbins moves into the MIA/Madame Ko story, the book begins to move. Another weakness, I think, is that the characters are not as complete as in other Robbins works. I think this is because almost everyone of them is just another voice for the already intrusive narrator. I would have preferred more plot in which his characters could have devloped on their own, and less intrusive narrator. Particularly because there really doesn't seem to be the need for him, it's not as if Robbins uses his omniscience for time-shifting--the novel is pretty linear. Notwithstanding these considerable flaws, Robbins is still a master of the humorous simile and the absurd situation. He uses coincidence with the aplomb of Charles Dickens and is still capable of sharp questions and observations that puncture convention and conformity.
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Tom Robbins has moved through his career from the "small" novel (Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker) to the "epic" novel (Jitterbug Perfume, Skinny Legs and All, Fierce Invalids) and has now returned to the "small" novel. Apparently, judging from previous reviews, there's a body of folks out there who see this as a regression, a sellout or whatever. I don't see it that way.
Villa Incognito has all the trade marks of a Robbins "small" novel. The wordplay here is more pronounced and whimsical than is usually the case in the "epic" novels-though every now and then one senses that Tom's trying a bit too hard on that score in this book. The book has a choppier, more fragmented feel to it than is traditionally the case in the "epic". And-what may be the real rub with many who criticize the book-the "message" here is more overtly political (and liberal) than philosophical than tends to be the case with the "epic' format.
Having said all that, this is a typical Robbins novel-recognizing that such a concept is basically an oxymoron, as Robbins worldview and writing style render the notion of "typical" meaningless.
The Robbins trademarks are all here: Wacky yet somehow tangible characters, mystical happenings, philosophical rambling, a fair amount of sexual innuendo, a highly energetic, nearly stream of consciousness writing style rendered with flair and gusto.
Robbins also has an uncanny knack for rendering a sense of place for exotic locales which is on full display here. His descriptions of post Vietnam War Laos and Thailand make these places seem more real than the vast majority of historical treatises or travelogues one could read.
This isn't a top notch Robbins book. However, run-of -the-mill Robbins is a heck of a lot better than most of the garbage that graces the best sellers lists, and this ends up being a thoroughly entertaining read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars pla-bonga! April 12 2004
By A. Hook
Tom Robbins is the kind of writer that manages to get under your skin and ferment there until he becomes a way of life. I'm not sure that he'd appreciate that (who knows what he's really like, it's dangerous to assume anything from the books). But because of this, his readers appear to take his books personally. I'm no exception here. "Jitterbug Perfume" introduced me to his work at the exact point in my life that I needed to become aware of him, and "Fierce Invalids" also hit me at a spookily coincidental time. Lucky me. "Villa Incognito" is a bit different - it's another rollercoaster ride, but like most rides you get the feeling that you really need to go round once more to get what you paid for. Not that "Villa" isn't another great Tom Robbins novel - it is - but it doesn't quite seem to have a momentous *something* underpinning the brilliant wordplay and characterisation. Like the characters, the plot is hiding. Like all his books, it makes you think. As I said at the start, it's hard to remove the writer from his work and the work from your own innards, and he shouldn't be expected to perform repeat performances of the same shows over and again. "Villa" feels like a stopgap - and why not (at least it's better than "Half-Asleep in Frog Pajamas" which truly disappointed in the end). I'm rambling here - Tom gives you diarrhoea but it's purely the pleasureable sort. As usual, I'm overly expectent for the next rush.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Villa Supreme
Tom Robbins has managed to weave a tale that is both entertaining and engaging through his use of characters such as Viet Nam MIA's, armed forces officers, and well researched... Read more
Published on March 27 2005 by Ty Krupp
4.0 out of 5 stars Like sex or pizza
A Tom Robbins novel is like sex or pizza: even when it's bad it's still pretty good. Not that "Villa" is bad, but I didn't feel it was up to his "Jitterbug Perfume/Even... Read more
Published on July 23 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Robbins' best. Not his worst.
Comparing this book to his other work, I'd place it near the bottom. It's not as uninspired as Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, but not as vibrant as the rest of them. Read more
Published on July 4 2004 by Dynomoose
3.0 out of 5 stars light weight, entertaining, but somewhat disappointing
I agree with other reviewers who have suggested this not be the first Robbins book you read--start with Skinny Legs and All (my personal favorite), Jitterbug Perfume, or Still Life... Read more
Published on June 22 2004 by James J. Lippard
5.0 out of 5 stars pla-bonga, pla-bonga, pla-bonga
In typcial Robbins style, he gives voice to the animal and inanimate with humor and vivid descriptions. Read more
Published on June 22 2004 by Heather
2.0 out of 5 stars An arrow in the bullseye of a tired target...
Robbins earlier works are much better and as he continues with his retreaded themes his efforts are becoming increasingly bathetic. Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by D. Bannister
2.0 out of 5 stars lite Robbin's snack till his next Big Thing
Not Tom's best by a long shot (I've read'm all), though I liked it better than Fierce Invalids. This is due more to a prurient self-interest in Japanese mythology, South East... Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by Fudo Myo
5.0 out of 5 stars Please don't start with this book!
Tom Robbins is a very smart, funny writer with no apparent end of inspiration. His humor can be sweet or raunchy. He puns shamelessly. And yet...these books stay with me for years. Read more
Published on June 4 2004 by G. Barnett
5.0 out of 5 stars Different, but good
While this novel is different from Tom Robbin's former works, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking piece. Yes, he does deal with some politics in it. Read more
Published on April 20 2004 by Maura Cooney
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