The Family Fang, By Kevin Wilson
Biting satire? You must be joking
Sunday 11 September 2011
If you're the kind of person who shudders at the word "kooky", look away.
The Fang family are outlandish performance artists, Caleb and Camille, their daughter Annie, and son Buster. Pressurised to participate in their parents' crazy stunts, carried out to gain notoriety in the name of art, Annie and Buster are relieved to escape into adulthood and jobs as an actress and a writer, respectively. But hard times necessitate a move back to the family home, and they're hurled back into their parents' chaotic world.
This is amiable, lightweight fun, but suspension of disbelief is required in shark tank loads, not necessarily about the art (we live in a world where lights turning on and off win the Turner Prize), but about events. One of Caleb's "art" works is shooting his college tutor with a rifle on campus; another is setting himself alight while carrying his baby. The lack of consequences after these actions – security/ police flood; social services snatching of child into care – might irk those who prefer the ribbon of reality through their comedy to be less frayed. The ease with which incredible scenarios occur is cartoonish: changing plane tickets with seconds to go; aircraft stewardesses welcoming customers using intercoms for marriage proposals, then plying passengers with champagne. And the final twist is so improbable that I expected an "and then they woke up and it had all been a dream".
The playwright Dario Fo suggested that one of the criteria of satire is being subversive. This is what's missing here; the characters are parodies but without an incisive edge. By Fo's definition Wilson's novel is a spoof; harmless nonsensical fun rather than anything intellectually stimulating, despite its serious underlying message about parents imposing their will on their kids. For a caustic representation of a conceptual artist, see Philip Hensher's The Fit; for tragic-comic portrayals of how parents screw up their offspring, read Edward St Aubyn. And for sharp wit or anarchic plots, try Paul Murray, Sam Leith, Leo Benedictus, Geoff Dyer.
But it's probably not fair to criticise a book for not being acerbic or sobbingly funny if that's not its aim. If you like your comedy less acidic and more gentle – think Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole or John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces – this is a well-intentioned story; amusing and accessible, albeit infuriatingly implausible. The Fangs are more cute baby teeth than shearing canines, but charming in their way.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how Twitter reacted
- 3 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God