Florence of Arabia – Christopher Buckley

I wanna laugh at a book. No, I mean really laugh.

Once, when I was adult enough to be roaming around the American highways with a friend but child enough to be aimlessly roaming driving down American highways with a friend, me and said laughed so hard at a Rodney Carington track (not our finest moment) that we needed to pull over for a few minutes. We came close to causing a major accident. From laughing.

That is how hard I want to laugh when I say that ‘I wanna laugh at books’. Some books got me to do it. Douglas Adams did. So did Terry Pratchett. But even there, thus moments were peppered sparingly in the books. Christopher Buckley is often listed with the above authors when it comes to comedic works, so I figured it would be worth seeing if he could live up to it.

Alas, he didn’t.

Florence of Arabia is a satirical novel about a women’s liberation front brought to the middle east by a shadowy US government organization, and brought to the fictional country of Matar in the guise of a women focused TV channel. The operation is spearheaded by the titular Florence, a well meaning government who has a history with the neighboring country of Wasabia.

For me, a lot of the humor here fell very flat. I think much of it was the wrong humor for a different medium. All the characters constantly saying mutter instead of Matar could have been funny if this had a been a TV show. But in the book it made me smile the first time. After that, it started to grate on my nerves. Performance pieces don’t do well in books, and that was a performance piece. With most humorous books, my reactions tend to be this muted. Most funny things make me smile appreciatively at best. But again, that isn’t the reaction I was hoping for.

I don’t like to get to tangled up in this kind of politics, but there were definitely a few moments where I felt that this was a book of its times, and some of the throw away lines in it would be accused of Islamaphobia in today’s days. It somewhat impacted my reading, but this book is close to twenty years old now. There were also a few moments that reeked of a man’s bad take on feminism. Right. A book of its times. 2004.

What I think might be the real appeal of this is how very Washington DC it is. That seems to be why my parents enjoy it so much. Both of them swear that they know exactly where every DC scene in this book takes place. I am not sure that is the case. Frankly, I think it is all the ‘lazy machine1‘ at work.


1 ‘Lazy Machine’ is a literary semiotics term coined by Umberto Eco, which refers to the fact that literary works actually have surprisingly little detail in them when they are actually analyzed, in most of the rich vivid details

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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