Villa Incognito

By Tom Robbins

17 ratings - 3.68* vote

Imagine there are American MIAs who chose to remain missing after the Vietnam War. Imagine a family in which four generations of strong, alluring women share a mysterious connection to an outlandish figure from Japanese folklore. Imagine them part of a novel that only Tom Robbins could create? A magically crafted work as timeless as myth yet as topical as the latest intern Imagine there are American MIAs who chose to remain missing after the Vietnam War. Imagine a family in which four

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Book details

Paperback, 256 pages
January 10th 2004 by No Exit Press

(first published 2003)

Original Title
Villa Incognito
1842431021 (ISBN13: 9781842431023)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Arthur Graham

Just because you’re naked
Doesn’t mean you’re sexy,
Just because you’re cynical
Doesn’t mean you’re cool.
You may tell the greatest lies
And wear a brilliant disguise
But you can’t escape the eyes
Of the one who sees right through you.

In the end what will prevail
Is your passion not your tale,
For love is the Holy Grail,
Even in Cognito.

So better listen to me, sister,
And pay close attention, mister:
It’s very good to play the game,
Amuse the gods, avoid the pain,
But don’t trust fortune, don’t trust fame,
Your real self doesn’t know your name
And in that we’re all the same:
We’re all incognito.


This is probably the worst Tom Robbins I've ever read. Which isn't to say that it isn't funny. It is. It is very funny, with lots of excellent lines and clever little observations. The problem is that the characterizations, even for parody, even for humor, are flat and contrived, the philosophy espoused is pedestrian, even for a college freshman (seriously, can't people just get over their realizations that Columbus didn't "discover" the Americas? Is it really so profound that you have been told a lie of fact even as you are being told a truth of consequences?), and the political commentary is so incensed that it lies down on the traintracks of talking head babble.

Tom Robbins is better than this. I found myself agreeing with all of his views and disagreeing with nearly all of the ways that he said things. Gone from this novel is the depth of characterization and the complexity of the absurdity of the situations. Here things mostly just happen, largely to characters that end up not mattering at all, almost entirely for reasons that are arbitrary. Coincidence is fine when it brings to a head a point or a revelation of character, but herein there is coincidence simply to move things forward (the greatest sin there is), and while a mystic refusal to answer questions can create a sense of deeper intellectual exploration, here it is simply a refusal to ask or answer the questions that could have been posed. As it is, these unanswered mysteries are simply just things that happen.

In honesty, it is a novel worth reading, if you like these kind of novels, because it is funny and because it is fun (I enjoyed it all of the way through). The problem is that it is empty where it is trying to be full, leaving the reader, in the end, feeling likewise.


This book came to me because the recommender asked what that funny statue was in my living room. I replied, a tanuki. He looked at me strangely, so I spelled tanuki out for him. Then, much to my surprise, he said I read a book about tanukis and I thought they were made up by the author.

Well, Tom Robbins did not make up the story of the tanuki from scratch, but he did embellish on the Japanese legend. Robbins is one of those rare authors where I stop for a second and think, how the hell did he come up with this?!

He is creative without being unbelievable. He writes as if you were having a direct conversation with him and not just merely reading a novel. He doesn't explain every detail immediately, and let's the pieces fall into place as the reader moves along. He is well-versed in current events, mythology, philosophy, and pop culture. In other words, he is a rarity.

The plot jumps back and forth without being overly confusing. You have to trust that the loose ends will be tied up eventually, and it is worth the wait. Everything and everyone is connected, and what at first might seem like happenstance, turns out to be another fork in the road. Suspension of reality may be necessary while reading this novel, but at the time, it doesn't seem out of the ordinary.


I did it all for Tanuki:

Karlyflower *The Vampire Ninja, Luminescent Monster & Wendigo Nerd Goddess of Canada (according to The Hulk)*

Things I learned about myself whilst reading Tom Robbins' Villa Incognito

1.) The word scrotum makes my mouth really uncomfortable. It makes me simultaneously want to giggle and vomit, feelings which - before now - I thought were mutually exclusive.

(The word Gonads, however, just makes me giggle!)

2.) Any mention of Thomas Edison always makes me think of the TV show Student Bodies

3.) Bestiality makes me inappropriately snort-chuckle loud enough to be heard by Chris - while showering - in another room!

(Also, I'm mean and like to wait like a tiger to pounce on him when he comes out of the bathroom with quotes that made me laugh like a deranged hyena!)

4.) It's inappropriate to wake someone up with visual aid pictures of how large tanukis balls are! - This isn't something about me, it's just something I learned while reading this book! However, getting back to the mean thing, it didn't stop me from laughing and doing it again :)

Paint me like one of your French girls

5.) I'm perversely happy that these terms exist (If only in Villa Incognito):
-Twin globes of testosterone
-Grand gonadal display
-Bulging nut baskets

Molly Billygoat

The beginning of Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito has all the hallmarks of a comedic fable. For fans of satire, the lovable but lascivious Tanuki – an ancient Japanese badger-like creature with an enormous scrotum and love for women and booze – ensnares the reader immediately. The story to come, however, is much vaster than one might imagine.

Jumping back and forth in time, between countries, and between different characters, the plot thickens and raises many questions. At about the half-way point, the complicated relationships between characters start being revealed in titbits, making the read ever-more tantalizing.

More than anything else, Tom Robbins demonstrates an almost unmatched power to create satire fit for belly-laughs and description that will evoke sighs, smiles and tears. Plot aside, every sentence is a delight to behold.

Embedded in Robbins’ story are several ethical messages relating to war, belief and pacifism. Specifically, the issue of a suffering patient’s right to die with the aid of drugs such as heroine to relieve their pain is explored. As one character points out, why should we worry about a cancer patient’s addiction to heroine when they are on a one-way road towards death? As a society, a pain-free exit from life is surely the most compassionate thing we could offer (absent a cure).

But I regress. Villa Incognito is quirky, hilarious and beautiful. The exploration of the Laos culture is fascinating and amusing. All things are covered with equal measures of wisdom and humour. Villa Incognito truly is a work of art.

Jeanette (Now on StoryGraph)

This has been on my Good Reads shelf for a long time with a two-star rating because I didn't care for the plot or the book as a whole. Today I'm adding a star to my rating because I ran across a whole mess of stuff I'd copied from the book. The story's not that great, but Robbins makes some powerful statements about a lot of issues the planet as a whole is facing, and America specifically.

"Why would they fell trees but leave men standing? Trees are a damn sight more useful than people, and everything in the world knows that except people...Trees generate oxygen; men just breathe it up, stink it up, and generally misuse it. Trees hold the soil in place, men are constantly displacing it. Trees provide shelter and protection to countless species, men threaten the existence of these species. When in sufficient number, trees regulate atmospheric temperatures, men endanger the planet by knocking those regulations askew. You can't rest in the shade of a human, not even a roly-poly one; isn't it refreshing that trees can undergo periodic change without having a nervous breakdown over it? And which has more dignity--the calmer spiritual presence--a tree or a typical Homo sapiens? Best of all, perhaps, what maple or cypress ever tried to sell you something you didn't want?"

"Your country [America] seems to have everything and yet it has almost nothing. It's unbelievable. In that vast, beautiful, powerful land of unprecedented abundance live some of the most unhappy people on earth. Oh, generally speaking they complement all that affluence by being generous and energetic and, except for their ruling class--which is wormy with evil, like ruling classes everywhere--rather decent. But they're chronically depressed and dissatisfied. Chronically."

"Oh, I suppose you can find God's fingerprints in a book, even in an incoherent hodgepodge of myth, genealogies, inventories, poetry, sexual fantasy, and politics like the Bible, but there's a whole lot more divinity in that reef down there. If I thought I had to hunt for God, I'd be looking in a place like that."


By standard book standards, I would say that this is a four-star book, easily.
But by Tom Robbins' standards, and he has set the bar for himself rather high I must say, this is just a mediocre three-star book.

It starts off brilliantly and as someone living in Japan who not only runs into pictures of Tanuki, sees them quite often scampering across the highway when driving but also has a statue of one right out front my door, this was right up my alley and something which immediately piqued my interest.

Then, in typical Tom Robbins' style he introduces another story, seemingly unrelated at first glance, but of course you know he is going to weave them both together strand by strand.

While he does this to marvellous effect in other books like Perfume Jitterbug (fantastic) and Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (brilliantly hilarious), there is something about this narrative that just doesn't quite gel. Don't get me wrong, there are moments of brilliance and very witty comments but to my mind, and I might get sledged by serious Robbins' fans for saying this but.....this reads like a very promising FIRST DRAFT of a novel. It is very unpolished by his standards. If only he had done a little more work on it, it could have been great.

Secondly, the story ends so abruptly. I felt like he was really building up the plot to take it somewhere special but the ending was rather anticlimactic I must say, in addition to my added frustration of arriving at the last page only to find that someone had torn it out! Yep, that's right. Went to the nearest English bookshop in Tokyo where I could find a copy and read the last page properly in peace. Someone messing with my 'wa' again, no doubt.

I would still say this is worth reading but if you are new to Tom Robbins, definitely do not start here. Start with one of his greater earlier efforts.
A big thank-you, nevertheless, to Larry for lending me his copy. Larry, no more tearing out of last pages of novels please!


A good Robbins book, but didn't love it quite as much as Even Cowgirls Get the Blues or Still Life with Woodpecker. Definitely not the place to start for anyone who's not already familiar with his work, as I found it a little more manic and hard to follow than the others of his I've read. Robbins to me always feels like a ride in a speeding car where the inside has a million video screens and you're trying to follow everything on the screens and everything that blurs by the windows. There are a million pieces that sometimes fit together and sometimes don't, and that's ok - Robbins has a distinct voice and a distinct style, and that always endears him to me even in his weaker moments. Villa Incognito didn't feel quite as glued together and coherent as his other works, but there were still plenty of parts that make it worthwhile and enjoyable for Robbins fans.


I really enjoy Tom Robbins very much, but this book just really fell flat with me. I'd read one or two other Robbins books just before this one, so perhaps it was partly just general Robbins-fatigue, but Villa Incognito really felt like a lazy mishmash of generic Robbins themes and humor. When I read this book most of the time my mind was going "Blah blah beautiful prose about drinking and drugs and sex and wacky characters blah blah." I was really just bored with it. I could see how if this was someone's first crack at Robbins' work, it might work for you, but this one really fell flat for me.