Friday, November 6, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time - and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened."

The epigraph is a fragment of the famous "wave speech" in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" (1971). Alas, the "wave speech", a passage about one-and-a-half-page long, is the only thing in the novel that rises above mediocrity. About 15 years ago I watched Terry Gilliam's failure of a movie based on this book and since then I have wanted to read the original work, thinking that Mr. Gilliam - one of my favorite directors - botched the screen adaptation. Well, now I know: Mr. Gilliam did a better job than Mr. Thompson.

The plot is well known, so just a brief summary: Raoul Duke, a sports magazine writer, and his attorney and sidekick, Dr. Gonzo, travel to Las Vegas to report on an off-road race for motorcycles and dune buggies, and later to write about the District Attorneys' Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. However, Mr. Duke, a self-proclaimed Doctor of Journalism, is unable to fulfill his professional duties as both he and Dr. Gonzo are permanently and massively high (so high that in real life they would end up in an ICU) on an impressive array of drugs: mescaline, LSD, cocaine, uppers, downers, raw ether, amyls, and of course gallons of tequila, rum, and beer. Oh, I forgot the pineal gland extract from a live human being. They hallucinate around the clock and use more drugs and alcohol attempting to interrupt the delirium.

Clearly, Mr. Thompson wanted to write a definitive novel about the demise of the Great Dream of the Sixties and the decay of hippie culture. Yet one beautifully written passage (the above-mentioned "wave speech") does not redeem the whole text, whose only impact - as far as I can ascertain - is shocking and tantalizing the readers with descriptions of intense drug use and detailed depictions of hallucinations. Towards the end, there is another serious fragment in the novel, where the author probes the history and politics of the youth movement in the Sixties, until the "orgy of violence at Altamont" (December 1969) effectively ended the movement. The seriousness and depth of this passage is totally incongruous with the rest of the book. The ending is also strong and resonant, but all the good fragments add up to maybe five pages out of 200.

One and three quarter stars.

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