Friday, May 27, 2016

Review of The Portable Veblen

I picked this up because I rather like the odd economist-anthropologist Thorsten Veblen; I’d used terms like ‘conspicuous consumption’ and ‘leisure class’ loosely for ages until I actually read him, and found him to be brilliant and insightful, and rather relevant to our emerging post-capitalist civilisation.

But while the main protagonist of this novel is named for and keen on the original Veblen, it’s not really about him at all. Instead, it’s about relationships – between lovers, between parents and children, between siblings, old friends and everyone else. Oh, and trauma-induced brain damage, and medical experiments, and the regulation of medical trials, and the treatment of the mentally ill.

A few pages in I decided that this was not my sort of book at all, but I am so glad that I stayed. McKenzie is a very good writer, with a superb eye for details. There’s a good and well-structured plot for those that need that sort of thing (me), and sometimes the interplay between parents and children, and between siblings and parents, was so good it seemed that she’d been listening in on my sessions with my therapist.

So just read this. And then go read some Veblen too – I went and got myself a new copy of the Theory of the Leisure Class when I finished this book.

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