Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas [Hunter S. Thompson]

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Tea infused with mescaline.

Fear and Loathing is a crazy, psychedelic romp around Sin City in extravagant classic cars fueled by cocktails of narcotics. I read it in one sitting on the Megabus to London fueled by granola bars. And I loved it.

I felt like all of the novels I had read in the preceding weeks had focused so much on the subtle nuances of character motivation, with unreliable narrators and unstable emotions. Now, this one can by no means claim ‘stability’ as its watchword, but the two central characters’ motivation is crystal clear: self-indulgence, mostly manifested as indulgence in any and every drug they can get their mitts on. The writing is Thompson’s ‘Gonzo journalism’ style – whereby the author’s standpoint is that experiences, reactions and emotions are more important and interesting to report upon than facts. He was a journalist for Sports Illustrated when he was offered the contract that took him to Las Vegas, and the resulting story exemplifies that attitude.

In the book Thompson and his attorney, under the aliases of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo (the latter being the hottie in the picture above), are sent to cover a big car racing event being held in Nevada – but they basically jack that in after realising that drugs are more fun than doing a “good job”. And while the descriptive language used to create the Las Vegas atmosphere deserves its own honourable mention, Thompson’s portrayal of a drugged-up experience in Las Vegas is brilliantly used as a vehicle to comment on Vegas itself, and the American Dream to boot. These guys are liberated, they have other people’s money to burn on drugs and booze and trashing expensive cars, and by pushing all of these things to the absolute limits they’re under the impression that they’re really living; they don’t care about responsibility or any point past the very moment in which they are existing. In their minds, they are the dog’s bollocks. To the reader, however, they are an embarrassment. They are deluded in thinking that all they need is a bold and self-confident demeanor to fly by the seat of their pants through any situation; in reality it always comes back to the almighty dollar, which pays for their experiences. The reader can see that their ‘fulfillment’ of the American Dream is completely hollow, and this seems to be Thompson’s way of saying that the Dream is a con. You question why they have to push to get adrenaline buzzes from all sorts of sources – drugs, sex, gambling, alcohol, lies – what kind of emptiness drives that behaviour?

Ironic, really, that my gut reaction was that I had enjoyed the book for its simplistic characters. But I feel that Fear and Loathing is less about trying to understand the characters’ motivations in order to appreciate the book, and more about trying to appreciate the overall message when you set it in a wider context.

BONUS PICTURE (this gave me a giggle):

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I’ve finished this and want something similar:

Lots of people draw parallels between Fear and Loathing and Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’, and they’re certainly two stand-out examples of counterculture literature. Kerouac isn’t really for me; I can’t get into his style. But that’s absolutely not to say that it isn’t worth trying.

I’d also recommend ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk, for something in a similar vein.

If you’d like more commentary on the American Dream, but in a less mental setting, then I would highly recommend ‘Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller. Ok, it’s a play and not a novel, but it isn’t the flagship of its genre for nothing.

What do you think?

Did you enjoy ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’? Do you enjoy drugs? If anything in this post has struck a chord with you, tell me all about it in the comments!

I’ll just put a sugar in my tea if I want a kick. Until next time! x

Artwork credit: Ralph Steadman

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