52 Good Books

Book Review 30 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompon

This was both the weirdest and the most ground breaking book of the challenge so far. It also left me floundering as to how to review the plot, so I decided to review my reactions to it instead:

End of chapter two – this is fun and slightly surreal. I’m liking the short punchy chapters.

End of chapter four – great supporting illustrations but what the hell is going on?!

End of chapter six – the depravity is getting heavy now. These guys are totally messed up!

End of chapter nine – you learn something new every day. Muhammed Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for his refusal to join in the Vietnam war. Still not much idea what’s going on in this story though…

Part two. End of chapter two – a madcap storyline is emerging. It is surreal as hell but also an awful lot of fun!

End of the book – OK seriously, what the hell just happened there? Have I fallen through a portal into a parallel universe where I lack the requisite senses to understand anything?!

At the end of this book if you would like me to summarise what Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was about I would say drugs, Vegas, trying to keep one step ahead of the authorities and a whole load of random jibberish in between everything. Fun yes, but entirely nonsensical!

My general sense of confusion wasn’t helped by the fact that the book was stuffed to the giblets with American terms that I didn’t understand and had to keep stopping to look up. And then there were just references to things that I didn’t know about because I am from the wrong place and time. Take the sentence, “A long time ago when I lived in Big Sur down the road from Lionel Olay I had a friend who liked to go to Reno for the crap-shooting.” In this one sentence I had to look up three things, what is Big Sur? Is Lionel Olay the maker of my mum’s favourite moisturiser? And what is Crap-shooting? I was wondering if it was a typo and he was referring to fishing for carp with guns, either that or some kind of reference to shooting the holy crap out of people…

Fear and Loathing was discombobulating (there’s an Americanism that I do understand) in more than one respect and it took my reading of the notes at the back to understand more about Thompson and his so called Gonzo journalism. “A method acting style stream of consciousness writing.” When I told my husband this he said ‘So you had to read an explanation to understand what happened in the book?’ I’m glad he asked that because it helped crystallise the point. I still have no idea what in the name of Dumbledore’s crooked nose was going on in the book, but the notes helped to put the style of writing into context. Ultimately Thompson was passing commentary on the world around him. He wanted to say something using a partly fictionaled scenario to support him. I say partly fictionalised because Thompson, like his protagonist was a journalist who was sent to Vegas to cover events which he did while on a number of illegal highs. He wanted to make a statement on conscription, on drugs, on Nixon… I’m not going to pretend I get it, but at least I get that he created a genre.

I watched the film straight after and on this one occasion I would say the film was just as good as the book. It barely missed anything and if anything set the tone of sillyness for the rookies like me a bit more clearly.

Thompson was evidently a great thinker. He had a vision and he executed it in all its surrealist splendour. Tragically he committed suicide some years back. Pethaps I am romanticising it, but I can’t help but picture a tormented soul who was just too disillusioned with this world to remain a part of it. If you haven’t already either read the book or watched the film then I recommend you strap yourself in and get ready for one hell of a ride whenever you decide to take the plunge.

Next week the nerd in me returns as I go back to a favourite subject of mine, history. I’ll be reading ‘The illustrated history of England’ by Christopher Hibbert.


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