Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Me Cheeta by James Lever

Me Cheeta is the sort of book I would normally avoid. Books 'written' by animals don't usually appeal to me. And I did avoid this one for a while, but finally gave into pressure from various people telling me I should read this. And I am still trying to decide what i actually thought about it, because although I enjoyed it whilst I was reading it, and at no point considered not finishing it, I didn't feel much of an urge to keep picking it up, and was quite happy to read other things whilst reading this.

As most people probably know, this was supposedly written by the chimp who starred in the Tarzan films in the 30's and 40's, and is his autobiography. Written as a 'tell all' memoir, starting with his childhood Cheeta talks about his 'rehabilitation' from the jungle, his career in films and what happened to him after his fairly brief stardom ended. Peopled with the movie stars of the day, Cheeta talks very frankly about what goes on during the glittering social scene of the film stars. Sex and drugs feature highly, obviously, although in a much more matter of fact and almost bored way than if this was told from a human perspective. From Cheeta's perspective, the debauchery present is seen purely as animal behaviour, and therefore the author can get away with saying a lot more than would be said in a normal autobiography, as the chimp sees no taboo. A lot of the humour in this book comes from the way Cheeta describes human behaviour, the one that sticks most in my mind being his description of marriage;

"He had one of those lifelong monogamous arrangements (his third) going on at this time. These arrangements were sort of ritual periods of reduced sexual promiscuity, which the dreamers indulged in, often for years at a stretch, as a kind of relief from their natural state of undiscriminating sexual appetite"

The book is littered with comments like this that simultaneously illuminate the supposed differences between us and animals, yet show that we are not that much different, even if we profess to be! Cheeta's voice is genius at showing the horrible way we treat each other, and other animals. Another example is his insistence that in being taken from the jungle, brought to America and moved from cage to cage he is being rehabilitated and humanity is doing a good thing!

But as well as satirising the stars themselves, it is poking fun at the trend for writing celebrity biographies. A long paragraph at the start, where Cheeta is discussing what he wanted to call his autobiography made me chuckle, with him running through all the classic titles, such as My Life, My story, my loves or any combination of these., finishing with the following statement

"Who could possibly want another memoir by anyone? Let alone another ex-movie star's reminiscences? How presumptuous to assume that a celebrity's hoary old Hollywood war-stories could be of interest to anyone but himself!"

I think that sums up this book perfectly! A satire on Hollywood, both as an entity in itself and the individuals concerned. But also, a very touching story of friendship between human and animal even with the cruelty inflicted on them in the name of entertainment.

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