Reading this book was a labour of love that seemed Sisyphean and took far too long. Brand either writes as he speaks or this book is dictated and transcribed. It is full of contradictions. He perambulates through his ideas with digressions and unnecessary anecdotes. Critics have, justifiably in my opinion, called the book wandering and slated it. I struggled to read it at all. At times — and this is contrary to my character — I felt quite violent towards Russell Brand. Seeing his deftly threaded eyebrows on the cover had me itching for soap and a razor.
Nick Cohen of the Guardian called the book the “barmy credo of a Beverly Hills Buddhist.” In this uncharitable response he was far from alone. The criticisms have flown so hard and fast that criticizing the critics of this book has become a staple topic for columnists in the past weeks (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/mark-steel/if-you-think-russell-brands-new-book-revolution-is-confused-you-should-read-what-his-critics-have-to-say-about-it-30709726.html).
So, having read this book, with loud internal mutters of annoyance and occasional revulsion I am bemused to find myself wanting to offer it to other people. Alas, I got a lot out of it.
The Independent reviewer bemoaned that it was “typical of England to produce a revolutionary who offers no route map towards a revolution.”
Brand’s style is indeed peripatetic and his discourse personal. He is wealthy and eccentric and open about his feelings. This makes him a wonderful and apparently soft target. Yet the array of good minds he brings to his topic, in addition to his own, provide thoughtful support for his ideas and so his philosophy is not as easily dismissed as Brand himself.
Additionally, despite what the Independent says, Brand does provide laundry lists of action we could take to revolutionise society. He also offers examples of previous revolutions that have and haven’t worked as well as a consideration of why that has been the case. He untangles why he thinks we need a revolution at length (inequality, damage to the planet, poor representation, corruption etc).
If only the book had been heavily edited. I would love to take a red liner and cut out Brand’s lapses into poetry (p.61), typos (p.87 for example), baby talk (which had my head hitting the desk at p.313-315), self-contradictions (one moment he wants to throw molotovs and the next the process must be utterly non-violent), page long off topic rambles (p.132), and self-serving but irrelevant anecdotes (let me tell you about the time I hung out with Tom Cruise baby!).
A fact checker would also come in handy. Even someone as bad at math as I, raises their eyebrows when Brand says 10% of Londoners don’t have internet access, then proposes city wide Wi-Fi because “one fifth of the population are offline” (p.344).
I could happily trim his random attacks on people. It’s hard to find a group he doesn’t bash though of course rich people are a favourite target. Here is one example, found on page 133, of a baffling harangue about a random woman who displeased Brand:
“Nicola is a nervous flyer, which is annoying, because we all die in plane crashes, not just nervous people… They’re getting short shrift from me now, these blubbering sky-nancies. Phobias are like fetishes if you ask me, nurtured little perversions that the sufferers secretly enjoy.”
I sure didn’t need to be told what my reaction to this book would be (p.172) or that Brand has a big ego (numerous times). He says that he only had a few hours of research time and that he had to write 100,000 words (p.190 and p.172). Plus, he continually mocks the reader “you self-centred swine” (p.154).
It might have been kinder to the reader, who after all pays for the experience of reading this work, to encourage Brand to put more time into research and focus less on the word count.
Sometimes, the expression given to Brand’s credo is beautiful. The book design is a credit to the publisher. In all, as it stands, I recommend reading this book and will pass it onto others, because the message is good. But, just this once, can I please shoot the messenger?
Supplied by Random House New Zealand
Reviewed by Sally
Sally won a Julius Vogel award with her first book Deputy Dan & the Mysterious Midnight Marauder which you can purchase here: