Me Cheeta (James Lever)


Another book group book, but I was in Israel.  I wouldn’t have had that much to say about it anyway, since it rather by-passed my sense of humour.  When I first opened it at random, my eye fell on rather a good joke along the lines of “I can do a good Maureen O’Sullivan impression by screaming and throwing my excrement about”, but that turned out to be a false dawn.

I think that my problems were:

i)  I’m too young (!) to have any clear idea about the stars of the Hollywood Golden Age–and it’s a very long time since I had a TV for the purpose of watching old films on wet weekend– so Cheeta can say whatever he likes about them without surprising or striking me;

ii)  Cheeta starts off with a very sophisticated idea about life being there to cause creatures pain and death, and this supports a rather mild joke about humans being engaged in rescue, but this feels…clumsy…to me–you advance credibility for a rather far-fetched idea (that Cheeta has developed this Schopenhauerian philosophy in the jungle) and don’t get much of a payoff in return.  There’s a story by Sholem Auslander which operates in the reverse direction–God decides to implant shame, knowledge of the moral law, awareness of mortality in your ordinary-Joe chimpanzee in his normal surroundings–and that’s much more effective.  Similarly, there’s ‘Great Apes’ by Will Self, where your drug-taking artist type wakes up one day to find everyone else has turned into chimpanzees (while still living in North London & working as doctors & so on), and he extracts a great deal of humour from the clash between the chimp and human layers of reality;

iii)  the humour wasn’t crude enough for me (more excrement and masturbation required)–‘sex and violence, the principles of chimpanity’ as one of Will Self’s simian savants remarks.

There may be going on in the book than I noticed–at the beginning (in the preface) Cheeta describes the final stage of Johnny Weissmuller’s life in Mexico in quite dignified terms, while at the end of the book the same period is portrayed as being much more sordid.  But since I gave my copy to another member of the book group I guess I’m never going to find out whether there was more to it now.

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