Category: Incognito – The Memoirs of Ben Trovato
Not many people know that I have written twelve books. I imagine even fewer care. Be that as it may. The fact remains that I have, without even really trying, built up what writers and publishers refer to as a ‘backlist’ and what writers’ wives call ‘those bloody boxes at the back of the garage’.
Some of you might even own one or two of my books. Now you have no excuse not to own all of them.
I am doing this is a public service and not because I have been told to clean out the garage.
Books will not be sent via the Post Office, unless you specifically want them in time for Christmas 2015.
Here, then, are the Dirty Dozen listed in order of their year of release. Point and click.
Writing vigorous material is not easy. And documenting a life from within a first person perspective can be a pit of snakes: what you might consider utterly fascinating about your own life might not be enough to get your reader to turn one page before soporific murkiness pulls in. Vigorous, funny, real and in the first person, Mark Verbaan’s Incognito is unputdownable.
If for the past decade or so, you looked forward to his various print media columns under his pseudonym Ben Trovato, which ruthlessly and relentlessly pulled opened the blinkers and poked into the sensibilities of South African crass stupidity and governmental mediocrity, you will completely relish this book which gives the back story of how the name and the idea of the pseudonym grew.
Admittedly, this element of the rich life Verbaan has lived, in, under, over and alongside the proverbial radar, only crops up from chapter 18, but the writing has so much wisdom and magnificent ability that it is not only a book about a pseudonym explained and set free, as it were. Or one about a columnist and sub-editor who was given short shrift by the newspapers he wrote for, or gave them the finger when he’d had enough of their petty politics. It’s not even only about a young man sailing, traipsing and gingerly wading through the poisonous contradictions and heady nuances that being young and white and articulate in a country rotten with apartheid values was like.
It’s about all of these things, but it is underpinned with such flawlessly crafted writing that you will want to eat this book from beginning to end, and will have difficulty not reading it all in one night.
Resonant with the kind of breathless pace in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Incognitomight remind you a little of the focus of JH Thompson’s An Unpopular War, as it offers a running commentary on life, love, loss, letting go and bewilderment in a manner that reeks with such honesty and genuineness that you will laugh – and at times cry – out loud. Never sinking into the maudlin, it’s a breathless read for all the finest reasons, but the laughs conjured up are never hollow. Cynical, yes. Obscene, certainly. Amoral, indeed. And totally laden with drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll. But as you read, the rhythm of the language is audible in your head, and it’s cast with such unselfconscious capability that it leaves you reeling. And makes you fall a little bit in love with a man who can write with such rigour.
This is a lovely book which keeps the mystique of Trovato behind his dark glasses and black Fedora intact as it celebrates Verbaan with all his flaws and graces, offering simultaneously, beautiful, brave and critical insight into the monstrous incompetence that makes our world turn.
Incognito: The Memoirs of Ben Trovato by Mark Verbaan (2014: Macmillan, Johannesburg)
A lot of people are asking me how they can get hold of my latest book without actually paying money for it. That’s just how they roll.
One of the ways is to enter a competition being run by the publishers, Pan Macmillan. It involves retweeting their tweet.
If that’s still too much effort, you could always try shoplifting.
May I call you Kendall? Ms Jones sounds so formal. Besides, I feel like I know you. Yes, I do mean ‘know’ in the biblical sense. You look eerily similar to a dozen or so women I’ve slept with. I’m a sucker for the vacuous, blonde, slutty look, which you have in spades.
You’ve been popping up all over Facebook lately. Well done! You must be tremendously excited by all the attention. Sure, most of it isn’t the kind of attention a normal person would want. But then again, you’re not normal. Far from it.
When I saw that photograph of you straddling a lion you’d just shot, I thought, “My god, what a magnificent animal.” The lion wasn’t a bad specimen, either. I like the way you’re tugging on his mane to make his mouth hang open. With his eyes shut, it’s almost as if he’s moaning and begging for more! You like that, don’t you? You’re such a tease.
I’m sure you didn’t have to walk too far to shoot that big boy. With your looks, I expect the park rangers tranquilized him, then used pointy sticks to prod him towards you. There’s an art to this kind of hunting, you know. The real professionals can take down a darted lion at ten paces without spilling their drink. You wouldn’t have been drinking, though. You need both hands to wield a bow. It must be incredibly difficult to kill a lion with a weapon like that. I bet he looked like a porcupine by the time you’d finished with him.
I really love your profile picture on FB. There’s something about a blonde dressed from head to toe in camouflage that gets my blood racing.
And if she happens to have her arms wrapped around a dead leopard, well, it’s into the cold shower for me.
Your page says you were “born and raised in the great outdoors of the great State of Texas. What a shame. Were your parents too poor to afford a house? I’m not judging you. Some of my best friends were born in the bush. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, either. For all I know, you weren’t raised by people at all. That’s okay. All the really cool people were raised by animals. Except those raised by wombats. They don’t turn out so well. Have you ever shot a wombat? I believe they explode. Quite pretty at night.
Is it true that your 13th birthday present was the chance to blow a rhino’s brains out? What a lucky child you were! Most girls don’t get to kill their first rhino until they are well into their teens. Did they blindfold it for you? Oh, wait. It’s you who would have been wearing the blindfold. On the other hand, it was probably more of an execution than a hunt, so I’m sure someone with your compassion would have insisted that the rhino be blindfolded.
There’s something poetic about it. While kids your age were playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, you were playing fire-the-bullet-into-the-rhino. That’s why you’re famous and they’re working at Mickey D’s, right?
Well, as we say in South Africa, the only good rhino is a dead rhino. You’re doing us all a tremendous favor by ridding the bush of these unsightly vermin. Any animal that has a horn on its nose deserves to die. Silly bastards.
I also love the picture of you with the elephant. I can’t quite make out what you have in your hand. It looks like a javelin. Did you stab him to death? It’s the only language they understand.
I hope he was asleep and that you didn’t risk your life. Someone as hot as you deserves to live a long and happy life. Elephants, on the other hand, are grey – a color that went out of fashion in 1884. Ivory, though, will always be fashionable. Those two enormous tusks will keep you in jewelry for a long time to come. Hey, imagine if you lost one of your perfect teeth, as impossible as that may seem. You could carve a new one and use that as an implant. How cool would that be?!?!? LOL
Did you know that you can also use their feet as wastepaper bins or umbrella stands? All you have to do is hollow them out. Of course you know this. Why else would you shoot an elephant if not to decorate your ranch?
I can’t believe how many animals you have killed and you’re only 19! Imagine what you’re going to do in your late-twenties, when you’re strong enough to carry a bazooka or an RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher. The carnage will be spectacular!
Is it true that the bunny-huggers are threatening to shoot you if you come back to Africa? I’d like to see them try. These hairy-legged losers think knives are for cutting up carrots instead of buffalo. Morons.
You’ve tried to make these rabid left-wing loonies see reason by explaining that your hunting actually funds conservation and “helps feed African villagers”.
Truth is, I’m not very good at math or even logic, really, but if you say that killing an animal is the best way to ensure its survival, I won’t argue. With a face like yours, you could tell me that hippos love nothing more than a bullet between the eyes and I’d believe you.
And if there’s one thing that African villagers want more than access to free broadband internet, it’s a crocodile carpaccio for starters, followed by fillet of wildebeest topped with monkey gland sauce. Real glands from real monkeys, obviously. Do you do monkeys? Crafty little buggers. You might want to try using a good ol’ American-made flamethrower. That way they come ready-cooked. There should be loads of cheap ex-Vietnam models floating around. Flamethrowers, not monkeys.
You probably don’t get much time to hang out with the Texas Tech University’s cheerleading squad any more, which is a bit of a pity. Perhaps you could combine the two. Drug a cheetah and when you do that leg action thing, you could kick him in the head. That would get a laugh from your fans, at least.
You say you’re hoping to host your own TV show next year? What a brilliant idea. I remember Jay Leno would bring animals onto his show. Instead of having a boring old expert talking about them, you could have people from the audience come up and shoot them in the face. It wouldn’t be gratuitous, obviously. That would be plain wrong. There would have to be prizes of some sort.
Anyway, babe. Good luck with the killing. Hope to see you out here again soon. You’d better hurry, though. The Mozambicans are poaching all our rhino and if you leave it too long there won’t be any left.
Say hi to Melissa Bachman. I’m sure you two are best of buddies. Do you have any pictures of the two of you in a hot tub? I’d sure like to see ‘em.
Anyway, darlin’. I gotta go. Tonight me and my buddies are lookin’ to bag us some German Shepherds. That’ll teach them fuckers to bark all night long.
Aim straight and keep your boots bloody.
My books have garnered around forty or fifty reviews.
I have been called everything from “the Che Guevara of literary commentary” to “the literary equivalent of the Unabomber”. I have been described as Pythonesque and Pynchonesque. Arrogant and opinionated. Insane, bizarre and completely cracked. But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Have you bought my memoir yet? I didn’t think so. Back to me, then.
Miraculously, not a single review over the years has been negative. Sure, there was one book that got sent out to critics with ten rand notes slipped inside, but I doubt that was enough to swing it in my favour. Any ethical books page editor would require at least a hundred bucks to say something nice.
For the first time, though, I’m feeling a little anxious. Being criticised for your writing is one thing. Being hammered for the things you’ve done in your life is something else. But I suppose that’s the risk you take when you write a memoir.
So far, so good.