This review contains quotes from the novel.
*Special thanks to Harper Perennial for allowing us to read Francine Prose’s Mister Monkey.
In Mister Monkey, Francine Prose writes a poignant novel about contemporary life as seen through a children’s musical which explores the obsessions with modern urban life. It was also adapted into a children’s book called Mister Monkey the Musical. The musical, however, is an off-broadway production taking place in a downtown theatre; sadly, it is about to be over.
Margot, who acts as Portia in the play, is annoyed with the fact that she has dropped so low among her thespian peers and is worried her career as an actress will disappear faster than she knows it. The other actors in the play are also dealing with their own share of similar anxieties as Margot; yet the one question that rings most true for these actors comes from a 5-year-old who asks his grandfather, “Are you interested in this?” The actors heard this little boy from the audience during a live show, and realized they have bigger problems to contend with.
“It is then that she hears a child in the second or third row say, very loud and clear, ‘Grandpa, are you interested in this?‘
Grandpa, are you interested in this? What a rude little freak! Any child who could put those words together is old enough to know better. Old enough to know that if you talk that loudly during a silence in a tiny theater with weird acoustics, chances are pretty good that everyone can hear you, even the actors on stage.
Grandpa, are you interested in what? In this blood, these tears? In these lives, the only lives that these actors will ever have, in the point which they have reached in their lives and from which they can only hope and pray to ascend?”
-excerpt from Francine Prose’s Mister Monkey
After this question is asked, different narratives happen in the book: Margot, the chimp played by Adam, the little boy’s grandfather, the little boy himself, the little boy’s kindergarten teacher, the creator of the play, a person who loves the theatre, the costume designer, and the show’s director. Each perspective helps guide the main narrative by giving their take in the world of theatre and of this show, Mister Monkey. Each character or narrator has their own take on what this play means to them. I like how Prose gave so many different perspectives because it helped show the modern urban life.
Prose’s use of diction and syntax makes for a really well-written novel. (It was also selected as one of the 100 Notable Books from the New York Times Book Review last year.) So if that doesn’t convince you to go pick this up, then I don’t know what will.