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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Les Amants de Singapour

Les Amants de Singapour - Michel Brice My kids were born slightly too early to become fans of the Tellytubbies, and I never really got to know Tinky Winky and the gang. The depths of my ignorance are revealed by the fact that I had to look up the spelling; imagine not being able to spell "Tinky Winky". But I did observe them occasionally from a distance, and now and then I would read an article about life in the Tubbytronic Superdome. It's always impressive when people who have been very successful are able to quit while they're ahead, and I was duly impressed when the Tellytubbies wound up their operation. I expected that their fans would be begging them to return. In fact, it turned out that the decision to stop making new episodes was driven by a hard-headed calculation. Tellytubbies only appeal to very small children, who can't absorb more than a certain number of episodes a month. The producers calculated that they had made enough to last a normal child until they had outgrown them; at that point, one could just begin the cycle again, with a new audience. I couldn't fault the logic.

Which brings us to Les Amants de Singapour, and the Brigade Mondaine series in general. In its heyday (see my review of Le Monstre d'Orgeval for general background), Brigade Mondaine was inspired trash. You could almost feel at times that you were being entertained by Scheherazade's less talented and sluttier sister; all you had to do was pick up one of the books, and you'd get a pleasantly deranged mixture of sex and violence, which somehow still managed to come across as, I don't quite know how, basically nice. Good was rewarded, evil punished, and, despite all the girls he bedded, you could see that Boris was at heart a kind and well-meaning person. The person or people writing them had some talent. But the quality started to slide, and, by the time I read Accro au Plaisir a year or so ago, all the fun was gone. They were just nasty and distasteful bits of porn. I decided I was finished with Brigade Mondaine.

However, looking at the Geneva airport bookstall yesterday evening, I saw there was no new Brigade Mondaine on sale; instead, they had a reissue of a volume that had originally appeared in the early 80s. It seemed that they had come to the same conclusion as the producers of the Tellytubbies. There are now almost 300 Brigade Mondaine titles; even if you consistently read one a month, a ludicrously high rate of consumption, that would last 25 years. So I hope that they're going to do the sensible thing, and restart the cycle. If we're lucky, they'll even focus on the best ones.

I read about a quarter of it on the plane before I started feeling sleepy, and so far it's great. Boris and Ghislaine have gone off to spend a couple of weeks in Singapore, staying at the upmarket Shangri-La hotel. As usual, it opens in media res: Ghislaine is walking around the room wearing nothing but a miniscule pair of lace panties, and the reader is given a good chance to ogle her. But Boris is doing no such thing; he's reading the copy of Lost Horizon that's provided free to each guest. I love the irrelevant little bits of information that they always managed to feed you. Ghislaine hates being ignored, and her mood doesn't improve when the gorgeous Malaysian waitress (you can see her on the cover) flirts outrageously with Boris all through dinner. Suddenly, they're in the middle of a huge fight. This ends with Boris going off with the waitress, while Ghislaine allows herself to be picked up by the cute guy who's been staring at her all evening.

But, the next day, Boris goes back to their room, and Ghislaine's disappeared! It gradually becomes clear that she's been kidnapped. There's been a misunderstanding; it turns out that Boris looks remarkably like the famous movie star "Allan Dilone" (I suppose they changed the name slightly for legal reasons), and, um, the Triads or something have decided that M. Dilone ought to be willing to pay a million dollars to get his girlfriend back in one piece. I'm sure I'll find out in due course. And where do the snakes come in? If they can just stick to their new policy, I think I'll start reading this wonderfully silly series again!


About half-way through. I strongly suspect that this one was written by a woman. The female characters are described very sympathetically, and, in the one explicit sex scene we've had so far, Ghislaine has to go down on one of the bad guys, who moreover insists on her doing the job properly. It's described as comme engloutir un oursin, ("like swallowing a sea-urchin"), a remarkably circumstantial description for this kind of book. Then, a chapter or two later, we get detailed advice on how best to sew on a missing button.

OK, not quite conclusive yet, but I'm convinced...


Finished. Definitely one of the best books I've read in this series! My favorite scene was about three-quarters of the way though. For various complicated reasons, Boris has to impersonate the real Alain Delon at a press conference - it's all part of his clever plan to rescue Ghislaine, who's still in the hands of the bad Chinese guys and being threatened with death by poisonous water-snake. Aleha, the cute Malaysian waitress that Boris has been carrying on with, fixes his hair and make-up so that he'll look as much as possible like the star. But then it's suddenly all too much for her:
Il racrocha et se leva.

- Aleha! fit-il, remué. Tu pleures!

Il s'avança vers elle et la prit dans ses bras.

- Pardonne-moi, Boris, Boris, je suis idiote, ça a été plus fort que moi. Tu comprends, tu bats pour sauver une autre femme et c'est moi qui t'aide.

Il lui caressa la tempe avec affection.

- C'est une amie, tu sais, rien de plus, mais elle est en danger. Ce n'est pas normal d'essayer d'aider les amis?

Elle se haussa sur ses talons et voulut lui attraper les lèvres avec les siennes, mais s'interrompit net:

- Ah, non, ton maquillage...

Elle redoubla de larmes.

- Tu vois, je ne peux même pas t'embrasser.
Poor Aleha, I really felt for her. And even though Boris and Ghislaine have a very free and open relationship, I didn't think that, for once, he was being entirely straightforward. "Une amie, rien de plus" was somewhat disingenuous. I hope he was at least telling the truth when he said he would never forget her. Well, as we're often told, Boris has an exceptionally retentive memory...