Saturday, August 25, 2007

Poking fun at politics (Jo Nesbø, "The Redbreast")

This Norwegian author's political jokes in The Redbreast are like his funny exchange about rock and roll in The Devil's Star. Here as there, Nesbø takes an odd, unexpected approach to a subject about which it is far too easy to be far too serious.

Here's The Redbreast's little gem of a comic take on politics:

"I read that a well-known American psychologist thinks the President [of the United States] has an MPD," Ellen said.


"Multiple Personality Disorder. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The psychologist thought his normal personality was not aware that the other one, the sex beast, was having relations with all these women. And that was why a Court of Impeachment couldn't accuse him of having lied under oath about it."

"Jesus," Harry said, looking up at the helicopter hovering high above them.

On the radio, someone speaking with a Norwegian accent asked, "Mr. President, this is the fourth visit to Norway by a sitting U.S. President. How does it feel?"


"It's really nice to be back here. And I see it as even more important that the leaders of the state of Israel and of the Palestinian people can meet here. The key to – "

"Can you remember anything from your previous visit to Norway, Mr. President?"

"Yes, of course. In today's talks, I hope that we can – "

"What significance have Oslo and Norway had for world peace, Mr. President?"

"Norway has had an important role."

A voice without a Norwegian accent: "What concrete results does the President consider to be realistic?"

The recording was cut and someone from the studio took over.
Anyone who has suffered through the banality of an American political news conference ought to love that one. What I like are the sly buildup and the gentle yet pointed satire on a subject about which another writer might have been strident.

So, readers, give me some examples of political satire and humor from your favorite crime stories.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Linkmeister said...

Hmm. By its nature, putting political commentary into a book immediately dates it, so I don't recall seeing it done very often.

In Please Pass the Guilt Archie Goodwin talks about the Mets and their personnel, so that dates it too (Bud Harrelson!). But somewhere in there he writes "The Palestinians had made Arafat it."

Ok, not humor or satire, but that's my best shot this early in the day.

August 25, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's close enough to satire. And yes, you're right that political commentary can date a book. But Nesbø's first dig here works whether or not the reader has ever heard of Bill Clinton, Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky. That's what makes it all the more impressive. The second example is satirical of American presidents, of empty, grandiose statements, and of vacuous "news" conferences without aiming at any one president. I'd say any moderately media-savvy reader is likely to get the joke.

Bud Harrelson ... obviously late in Rex Stout's career.

August 25, 2007  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Camilleri is constantly refering to his favourite politician and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.
In the Patience of the Spider he refers to a typical member of Forza Italia.."now undersecretary of the interior, though once convicted for corruption, another time for graft, and a third time let of the hook by the statute of limitations. An ex-Communist and an ex-Socialist, now a triumphant member of the party in power."

Unfortunately Italy which once gave us Roman baths and Hadrian's Wall also has now exported its political ethics. Sorry for using an oxymoron.

August 25, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One should be wary of a political party named for a football (soccer) cheer.

Stephen Sartarelli always provides helpful notes in his English translations of Camilleri. I found the notes to The Patience of the Spider especially illuminating on Italian politics. Berlusconi, according to the notes, seems to have succeeded in uprooting much of the old-style corruption from Italian government and replacing it with new, modern, media-savvy corruption of his own devising.

A line like the one you quoted could work even for a reader unfamiliar with Italian politics, I think.

August 25, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

It might be easier to find anger at politicians than satire. Take Florida (please!) -- John D. MacDonald, in both his McGee books and his standalones, expressed fury at the real estate developers and their political enablers for what was being done to the state.

Carl Hiaasen, on the other hand, does do satirical sendups of Florida pols.

August 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hiaasen's brand of yuck-it-up smirkiness has never appealed to me, based solely on the beginning chapters of one or two novels I've flipped through in bookstores. Those openings leave me with the impression that his Florida pols would all be buffoons or comic-book villains. In any case, if he does a good job, the satire will not depend for its success on the reader's knowledge of the time, place or issues involved.

On the other hand, Shane Maloney has raucous fun at the expense of Australian politicians in his novels about Murray Whelan, for which knowledge of Australian politics is absolutely not a prerequisite. Here's an example:

"(H)is behaviour was even more scandalous than alleged in the shit-letter. Fooling around might be forgivable. Kinky is a matter of taste. But doing it with a member of the Liberal Party was beyond the pale."

And the Liberal Party are the bad guys. Whelan, the book's narrator, is even harder on members of the Labour Party, for which he is a functionary and later a member of parliament.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

August 26, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Heh. Somebody is writing a novel right now in which American neocons are featured as the villains (and rightly so!) and a paragraph similar to the above is undoubtedly being written.

I remember Archie Goodwin describing a character's political aspirations in one of the books (might have been The Second Confession): "since he was planning to go into the dirtiest game there is..."

August 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

American neocons might make good thriller villains. I wonder if they are too fresh to make good fictional bad guys, though, per your warning that political commentary dates a book.

By the time such a book reaches readers, President Obama will already have told Americans that it is time to look forward, not back.

August 26, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Barack has forgotten that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Besides, we've seen a re-emergence of some of the Iran-Contra people during the current administration; I don't want that to happen with this crowd.

Sow the neocon philosophy with salt, I say. ;)

August 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In that case, President Clinton will guard against the re-emergence of old names from previous administrations.

August 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from Jospeh Heller's Catch 22 which is a manual on how to run a corrupt war in Iraq, the most prophetic satirical novel I know was published in 1993 (Cleaning Up by Bill Green, Sceptre) and predicted that America, Australia and Indonesia would destroy East Timor under the guise of saving it

November 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, I'll bite. What should I know about Cleaning Up?

November 07, 2007  

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