Villa Incognito

by Tom Robbins

Hardcover, 2003

Call number





Bantam (2003), Edition: First Edition, 256 pages


American MIAs choose to remain missing after the Vietnam War. Four generations of strong, alluring women share a mysterious connection to an outlandish figure from Japanese folklore.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LukeS
My heavens to Betsy, this is fanciful stuff! The (mostly) human part of the narrative deals with three ex-pat Americans in Laos who supply heroin to hospices as a charitable enterprise. Along the way, we have erudition, particularly in areas of faith. The book is chock-full of thought-provoking insights in this area. We are steeped in the regional lore of Southeast Asia, and that brings us to the tanuki, the wild Japanese racoon dog.

In "Incognito," the tanuki seek out human females to mate with, and when they succeed, it ruins the woman for any other relationship. When the tanuki and the woman conceive, another human female is born, and becomes a teacher to pass on certain aspects of the regional lore. My efforts so far to meld this plot line into the overall theme of faith and charity as it is illicitly pursued in Laos - I've come a cropper.

Highly diverting work. I love the erudition, and the offbeat sensuality, especially in the heart and mind of the tanuki. Plotwise, this is a very straightforward book; don't come for the plot only, come for the fun!
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LibraryThing member ShelfMonkey
Villa Incognito, the eighth novel by acclaimed author Tom Robbins, begins with the memorable phrase, “It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute.”

Welcome to Robbins country, a place where maniacal humour, pointed social commentary, and fantastic plot twists take the place of literary realism. That’s just as well, as he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Robbins has made a name for himself with a series of alternately daft and deft novels, marked by a singularity of vision and prose that few can match. Along with quirky contemporaries such as Christopher Moore and Neal Stephenson, and owing more than a great deal to the genre-bending works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Robbins’ works are, at their best, devastatingly funny and quick-witted masterpieces, while also serving as sometimes overly blunt satires of the world we live in. If all this comes at the expense of plot, it is a price his fans are willing to pay.

Villa Incognito’s storyline, such as it is, concerns three American MIAs who have chosen to remain missing rather than return to America. As befits a man who once crafted a main character out of an empty tin of baked beans (the tour de force Skinny Legs and All), Robbins manages to incorporate such disparate elements as terrorism, clown fetishists, drug smugglers, Vietnam War, high-wire artists, and a badger-like manifestation from Japanese folklore.

The plots of Robbins’ compositions, as in the best of Vonnegut, exist only to function as a curtain rod over which he drapes his wonderful digressions. No topic is too minor nor too sacred a cow to skewer: He attacks 9/11 and America’s so-called solution to the drug problem with as much manic fervour as he espouses the magical qualities of mayonnaise.

The constant asides onto whatever subject he deems important are what make his tales both so enjoyable to read, and difficult to encapsulate. (For ample proof of this, look no further than the atrocious Hollywood adaptation of his novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.)

As such, the plot of Villa incognito is slight. Too slight. There lacks a concrete base to fully support the weight of themes. His characters, excepting the likable Dickie Goldwire and the Colonel Kurtz-like figure of Mars Albert Stubblefield, fail to make any impact beyond the printed page. Like the high-wire performers he describes, Robbins’ story is precariously balanced on too fine a foundation. It falters, and finally tumbles.

Yet that should not dissuade the uninitiated from reveling in the many pleasures to be found. Writer’s Digest proclaimed Robbins “one of the best writers of the 20th century.” Perhaps in his finest works, he is.

Here, however, he’s merely on a quick stroll though the offbeat avenues of his mind. That the result may lack importance doesn’t detract from its entertainment value.
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LibraryThing member Murphy-Jacobs
I stopped reading Tom Robbins in the 90s. What had enraptured me about him in my teens and twenties seemed to have dried up and gone flakey, but I remembered with much love my time spent with Woodpecker and Sissy, among others. It was just chance someone loaned me this book (far too many months go) and at last I've read it.

What a lark! Oh, I'm sure some would talk about the depth and philosophy, the commentary and truth and whatnot, but that's not what I like. I like the fanciful shaping of events, the hopping from this odd vantage point to that. I like the lightness of it. I like the fun.

What was it about? Tanuki and tanukis, America, experiments, and running from the Gods of Bullshit. It's about taking disaster in one's hands to move on and falling into deep gorges. It's about endless knock-knock jokes, Southeast Asia, walking on a wire, going missing on purpose, love, appetite, and chrysanthemums. I may have just spoiled the whole book right there, but read it anyway.
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LibraryThing member Snukes
As always with Tom Robbins, I find the back-cover description of the book leaves me doubtful as to whether I want to read it, but I'm always glad when I do. Villa Incognito was a quick little read about the mythical Japanese Tanuki, his interaction with humans, and a very peculiar little village in Laos. The characters were enjoyable (though I've liked some from his other novels better) and his turns of phrase never fail to make me smile(/quirk an eyebrow).

When I say "quick little read," I mean it. The novel was quite short, and I felt that the conclusion was somewhat lacking. I would have liked a bit more explanation on the chrysanthemum seed and what it meant. I don't mind puzzling a few things out for myself, but that seemed to be the central theme of the story, and a bit more revelation would have been nice.
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LibraryThing member mamorico
Not Mr. Robbins best effort, but even a mediocre Tom Robbins book can be worth the time. Set in Japan and Vietnam, and full of the usual Tom Robbins preoccupation with all things sexual, this story contains much of his typical word play but is a little bit light on suspense and plot.
LibraryThing member nandadevi
I wouldn't say this book displayed less of Robbin's talent for satiric fantasy than some of his earlier work. It's simply (I suspect) that we've become accustomed to his longer works (Cowgirls), and this is a return to the economy of his much earlier work, Still Life With Woodpecker. The book shines with Robbin's language, reflections on philosophy science and history, and flights of imagination. Plot and character are really secondary, but carry the story forward well enough. Call it a novella, rather than a novel, and it becomes a much more satisfying read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Djupstrom
I am a Tom Robbins fan, but this was a clunker. I didn't like it at all. I did think the MIA/living in paradise bit was clever, but that was about it.
LibraryThing member bluesviola
Weird story of military men who chose not to come home after the war was over in Korea(?).
If you're a child of the 60's you'll like this book.
LibraryThing member SugarPlumFairy
I found this book painfully boring. I was sad for myself. I usually approach a Tom Robbins novel like a delicacy to be savored--this one was a serious disappointment.
LibraryThing member hippietrail
I couldn't get into this one at all. After several tries over a couple of years I gave it away.
LibraryThing member cpprpnny770
Was so excited when I saw this at an airport newstand a few years ago, but was sorely disappointed. The book never really takes off. Robbins' characters are again marvelous, but he just didn't do enough with them. I thought he should have had more of the tenukis in the story line. The ending was really lame...reminded me of the ending of Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas; like a fun acid trip you want to end but have no control of. Seems like he got bored telling the story and found the quickest, easiest way to end it. Tom Robbins always, and I mean always, makes me laugh out loud; unfortunately, there weren't that many laughs for me in this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member sfisk
If you're a Robbins fan you will undoubtedly enjoy this tale...
LibraryThing member madamejeanie
Thus begins one of the oddest books I've read in a long time. Tanuki (with
a capital T) is a tanuki (lower case) which is an animal very like a badger.
This one is a horny little thing and delights in drinking sake and seducing
simple minded farm girls. Then he develops the ability to shape-shift and
become a man, which allows him to seduce the aristocracy and drink a lot
more sake. This story is set in Southeast Asia, and is one of the most
convoluted things I've picked up to read. There are American MIAs who have
decided to stay behind in the jungle and become anonymous. There is also a
beautiful young woman who claims to have Tanuki blood in her veins and who
definitely has a chrusanthemum seed embedded in the roof of her mouth. Two
American sisters of one of the MIA soldiers are still searching for their
lost brother, and he is arrested with heroin taped to his body while dressed
as a priest. Lost yet? I was. About 20 pages into the story, my eyes
glazed over.

Life is too short to spend it reading trash like this. DNF
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LibraryThing member Sean191
My second Tom Robbins book . I have a lot more to read from him and I'm looking forward to it! Witty, entertaining, out-right weird and funny. My best guess, typical Tom Robbins.
LibraryThing member debbie.menzel
When I was younger I loved Tom Robbins, but this book and the last just weren't speaking to me. I'm not sure if they're just not up to snuff or if I've grown out of him. This is better than "Fierce Invalids from Hot Climates" which no one needs to read.
LibraryThing member redjanet
This was not my favourite Tom Robbins book by a long shot. Although there were sections that I found rather enjoyable, as a whole, as it did with other reviewers, this fell rather flat with me. It felt very disjointed and this caused me to take a lot longer to finish reading it than it should have.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Yikes! Really not one of his better books. Couldn't tell you what it's even about. The first section was downright painful to get through. It got better after that -- a few giggles-- but mostly incomprehensible.
LibraryThing member verenka
This book starts with the sentence: "It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute."

And in the first chapter I learned a lot more about Tanuki's scrotum than I cared to know. I didn't warm to the book until the second part or so, when the style changes from folk tale to a more modern storytelling with some interesting style elements (knock knock). And only later in the book I warmed to the interspersed verses of the "Villa Incognito" song. Certainly unusual.… (more)
LibraryThing member Frenzie
While the expected rants weren't present in such a bodacious manner as I'd come to expect, this was an interesting intrusion into the realm of Japanese legends, with a nice critique of the War on Drugs to boot.
LibraryThing member technodiabla
I enjoyed this book muchmore than I expected. Typically I don't go for fantasy/magical realism or humor, but Robbins blended in just enough cynical political commentary and erudite references to make this a very fun book on many levels. I love the over-the-top vocabulary and bizarre analogies used to discuss things that would otherwise be riduclous or coarse. I didn't love the nice neat packaging at the end-- I thought is was kind of a sell-out and didn't blend well with the vague and mysterious nature of the rest of the book. But overall, a great quick read-- I think Robbins will have a place in my library as respite between more demanding reads (I can't read Tolstoy and Dickens all the time or my head might explode).… (more)
LibraryThing member mbattenberg
I almost bogged down a few dozen pages in (I actually got bored for a while - a Robbins first for me!) but persevered, and fortunately got the pay-off: for me the book got better as it approached the end.

Highly fragmented and non-linear, the various micronarratives actually came together at the end, though any plot seems to have been simply a vehicle for Stubblefields (Robbins?) pontifications.

The expected Robbins irreverent humor and crazy wisdom persisted throughout.
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LibraryThing member LMHTWB
I haven't read Tom Robbins for a number of years and when I saw this book in the local used bookstore, I bought it. The first part was the typical Robbins book with weird characters, disjointed story, and strange random thoughts added -- all good points.

About halfway through the book began to falter. The end was a bit of a disappointment because hings fit together, but much too neatly considering the first half.

If this is typical of his more recent work (last 20 years), I'll stick with reading his older books. Definitely not his best work.
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LibraryThing member sdrsuperstar
This is the worst Tom Robbins book I have ever read. But it is still pretty sweet.




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