Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Thought Gang

One of the many wonderful things about the internet is that it gives you tons of books and music to consider that you otherwise might have missed. I discovered The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer when I read a blog post (do a word search for Fischer in the link) that includes the book's opening passage. Intrigued, I checked it out from the library, finally finishing it this morning.

The story tells of perhaps the luckiest lazy man in the world, 50-something Englishman and philosophy professor Eddie Coffin. Coffin is an embezzler who has fled to France with his small fortune, which he expects will last him for the short duration he expects to live due to a lifetime of prodigious consumption of alcohol and food. The fortune is burned up almost immediately in a car accident, and soon thereafter he is held up by Hubert, a one-armed, one-legged robber who'd just finished his prison term that day. While Coffin has no money for Hubert, he does let Hubert stay the night in his hotel room. From their mutual need for cash comes an alliance to rob banks, a task at which they become improbably successful, to the point where a ridiculously over-confident Hubert dubs the duo The Thought Gang and attaches a different philosopher's philosophy to each heist. Coffin even gains a girlfriend, Jocelyne, a bored teller at the first bank they rob.

In between the present story, which also includes a Corsican detective as bent on wooing Jocelyne as he is hunting down the Thought Gang, the story of Coffin's life is told in bits and pieces as the story progresses, absurdity abounding in the vignettes told along the lines of this: "I suppose we've all found ourselves running brothels in Amsterdam without the proper training at some time or other." Among other flashbacks, we are also told the story of one of Coffin's colleagues, who would have been the luckiest man in the world had he not gone crazy and killed himself once he determined that karmic justice dictated that he was due for a gigantic comeuppance.

Philosophy is also fed to the reader, but never in an overbearing fashion, or even in a way that requires complete understanding to appreciate the book. One slightly annoying element of the book is that it is replete with words so obscure that it makes the word replete look as common as the word the by comparison. The protagonist/author has a particular obsession with words beginning with Z, but Fischer is kind enough to include a glossary that defines many (but not all) of them. Eventually though, the Z shtick becomes endearing.

The book is clever, funny, thoughtful, and outrageous. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking a read along these lines.
Rating: 9/10

1 comment:

snaars said...

Beware those nefarious philosophers! Your post makes me want to read this book.