Carrying your philosophy with you

Photo: Abi / Flickr
The reviews quoted on the cover of Elizabeth McKenzie's The portable Veblen made it sound so good: "...hard to resist", "Ambitious, spirited, funny, daring", "A touching, wildly funny and peculiarly elegant look at the travails of love of all kinds" and "Seriously funny and extraordinarily well written" (from no less an author than Jonathan Franzen). Usually when you have reviews this good the book turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. Not with The portable Veblen, which I found completely entrancing - a squirrel on a roadtrip, the ups and downs of relationships, madness, love of all sorts, the perils of conspicuous consumption, and how to say squirrel in over 50 languages (the Armenian Skyurr (not to be confused with Icelandic Skyr) was my personal favourite) - it's a mad novel that somehow keeps its reader enthralled.

Veblen has a neurotic mother, a long-suffering step-father, and a Vietnam vet, Dad, who's never got over his wartime experiences. Paul, her fiance, is the son of hippy parents, who has decided to tread a very different path from them. He is a neurologist, and a fan of conspicuous consumption. Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, who is named after the economist / sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, is as different from Paul as chalk from cheese. This doesn't seem to matter but as they draw closer to the wedding day, and Paul becomes more deeply involved in a project with a major pharmaceuticals company, Veblen discovers a horrible truth about Paul - he hates squirrels. This seemingly innocuous discovery unleashes a chain of events which snowball comically before ending in a very satisfactory happy ending.

The portable Veblen is a lovely book - sweet, funny, philosophical, and in some ways surprisingly serious. It does make you think about what you want from life, what are your expectations, what's reasonable or unreasonable; and I discovered that economics is not just for those who are good at maths, I found the idea of the philosophy behind the work of Veblen fascinating too. All this and a squirrel in a leading role - what's not to like?


Popular Posts