Villa Incognito Hardcover – Apr 29 2003
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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.
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
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Top Customer Reviews
"Villa Incognito", his 8th (and, along with the classic "Still Life", one of his shortest) novels opens in typical Robbins fashion - parallel stories seperated by generations, farcical characters and an alluring female whom you somehow know is going to tie the entire story together. The action in "VI" is primarily set in Asia (which gives Robbins a chance to focus on herion as the drug of reference in this novel), where 3 Vietnam (thought to be) MIA's have established their own Walden. Meanwhile, the possible offspring of a Tanuki (don't ask, just trust me that only Robbins could make such a mythical character work SO WELL) and her circus comrades worms her way into the story, creating the mischief that Robbins works so well with his female creations (think Amanda from "Another Roadside Attraction", or the exotic dancer from "Skinny Legs and All" ).
As always, Robbins words simply sparkle. His ability to fashion similes remains unchallenged in modern writing. And the "modern time" sections of the story allow Tom (and his fans) the pleasure of Bush-bashing, 9/11 ruminating, and general "religion-government-organized society is failing us" rambling.
Unfortunately, the story runs into serious trouble after about 150 pages. You see where he wants to go, but lately Robbins has had a bad habit of letting his strong talents get in the way of a solid finish. It's not as bad as "Fierce Invalids" (which crumbled under its own weight), but then again, at only 230 or so pages, there isn't as much room to fail here.Read more ›
The first 100 pages or so, are just great - but the second half of the book kind of lays an egg in my opinion. I believe the reason this happens is because when one of the major characters - Mars Albert Stubblefied - is introduced, my energy and enthusiasm left this story. This character is just not up to par with the many great characters of wisdom and charm as in his other books, and I feel the overall story suffers a bit for this reason. He is just not a very likeable character and is portrayed to be a smart/ground breaking thinker, but most of his views make little sense, and have even less relevance to the world - even in their defiance of normal society - and this is very 'odd' for Robbins, as most of his stories thrive off of argumentive energy - that is difficult to debate. Stubblefied's theories didn't even lead me to attentive thought to be honest - which is always my favorite part of Robbins' work.
That being said, it is still worth the read, because one always learns great things when reading Robbins, and the worlds that he creates conjure journeys that all people should take once in a while in their life to escape this world for a brief moment. I still consider him the best writer of our time.
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on March 27 2005 by Ty Krupp
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 morePublished on July 23 2004
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 morePublished on July 4 2004 by Dynomoose
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 morePublished on June 22 2004 by James J. Lippard
In typcial Robbins style, he gives voice to the animal and inanimate with humor and vivid descriptions. Read morePublished on June 22 2004 by Heather
Robbins earlier works are much better and as he continues with his retreaded themes his efforts are becoming increasingly bathetic. Read morePublished on June 21 2004 by D. Smith
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 morePublished on June 21 2004 by Fudo Myo
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 morePublished on June 4 2004 by G. Barnett
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... Read morePublished on May 18 2004 by David J. Gannon