The Bonfire of The Vanities


The Bonfire of the Vanities was written by Tom Wolfe in 1987. Professor Litt told us to read it because it has many techniques that we could find helpful to study – and also because, of course, it’s an incredible book. As I lived in NY for a semester, I could totally see how deep and detailed was Tom Wolfe’s knowledge of the city. Reading this book is like falling into New York’s streets. The sense of place that Tom Wolfe expresses is really, really great.

But also, the details that he gives in the presentation of his characters are amazing, as they always come naturally. He does not stop the narrative to describe their appearance or to tell their backstory. Everything is perfectly “mixed” and the story flows without stopping. This is something that I really enjoyed, also because it makes the book an intelligent, deep one, and also a page-turner – which does not happen often.

Interestingly enough, this book appeared on The Rolling Stones in 27 installments from 1984 and was intended to be written in the Charles Dickens’ style, which is something that I can definitely see in this novel. Dickens gave an immense sense of London, and I think the world’s vision of London wouldn’t be the same without Dickens’ works. The great majority of his books is set in London. I guess that both Dickens’ books and The Bonfire of the Vanities express the very essence of writing the city: a huge place where a lot of different people do different things. As Professor Litt wrote in the essay he gave us, these cities are made of multitude and simultaneity.


This sense of multitude and simultaneity comes up from the extremely detailed description of New York’s society. The constant references to every character’s income is a very interesting symbol of how that society worked. It also doesn’t surprise me that Wolfe had been writing a lot of non-fiction and journalism before attempting to write a novel – the novel is a great expression of a deep knowledge of the society and the different people’s lives and occupations. This sounds interesting also because it shows that you can’t write a good, detailed and believable work of fiction without doing research. Skipping the research part would mean that you’re novel is not charged with those small details that express the essence of a place. Hemigway used to say that we should write about what we know well. I guess that The Bonfire of Vanities is a good example.

I am sure that the reading of this book will be very useful when writing my project. Our MA is called Writing the City and it focuses on how London influences our work. How can we write about London? How is it possible to write about such a huge city with so many different people? Everyone has a story in London, and at the same time, no one is special in London… except from all those people that are really, really special, of course, but still. I had the same impression when living in New York. I hope I will be able to write about this in my final project.



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