Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
Whatever images you have of glamorous high-rollers and cocktails lining the craps table should be discarded long before opening this book, to get ready for the raucous drug-fuelled Vegas binge that Hunter S Thompson throws the reader into with ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’ (to give it its full title).
The story recounts the experiences of Raoul Duke, and his lawyer friend, a larger-than-life Samoan named Dr. Gonzo. If the lawyer’s name rings a bell despite never having read the book (or indeed watched the film starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) then it may be because it relates to the entire genre which the book encapsulates; Gonzo Journalism. The style is an eclectic and colourful blend of fact and fiction, with a tremendously biased first person narrative splashed with social critique, sarcasm, and a devil-may-care attitude for self-image and correctness. Therefore as is to be expected of a shining example of Gonzo Journalism, it’s a first-person narrative where the protagonist is no neutral observer but the active agent in all of the dastardly goings-on.
The two protagonists set off on a three-day romp around Las Vegas with a rental car packed full of various hallucinogenic drugs, alcohol and other illicit substances which they proceed to fill their bodies with and endure the next three days of surreal experiences and reckless destruction in what one can only refer to as a chaotic jumble of human experimentation.
The novel itself is a form of experiment, the first of its kind and a controversial piece which certainly got the public talking when it was first published in Rolling Stone magazine as a two-part series in 1971. Though he captured the story of a generation, it came a little too early for some contemporaries, and it was only as it garnered popular acceptance that the critics and experts truly warmed to it.
Thompson based the book on two successive trips to Vegas with his real-life attorney, and wrote the full plan and large sections of the book in a 36-hour writing binge locked in a hotel room. Hunter S. Thompson was not a man to do things by halves, and in his plots as in his life, he is extreme. Perhaps the most shocking of all the themes, aside from the almost comic-book violence, is the criticism of American society; and how the pursuit of the American dream had warped into a suicidal exercise of futile endeavours. The self-satire is masked by layers of hippie-bashing, whilst the setting of the desert city of sin is a perfect vehicle for a novel about the garish and the twisted becoming even more garish and twisted under the light of hard drugs and fast living.
The lack of clear narrative may discombobulate some, but what is certain is that it will keep you on the edge of your seat and have you wondering which parts are true and which parts are fabricated – though with Hunter S Thompson, no experience is too extreme to be true. In 1998 the book was adapted into a film of the same name, starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, which was met with critical acclaim.