Words by David Capper
Anyone who has seen Terry Gilliam’s film adaption of Hunter S. Thompson’s most well known book will know exactly what to expect from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Originally written as a series for Rolling Stone magazine, Thompson’s zany novel is the perfect example of just how entertaining a book can be, even when it lacks a traditional beginning, middle and end structure.
This semi-autobiographical novel begins with successful journalist Raoul Duke (Thompson’s alter ego) speeding along the highway towards Las Vegas, accompanied by his questionable attorney and a suitcase full of mind-destroying drugs. The opening line, ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold’ immediately drags the reader into this twisted journey, and perfectly illustrates the tone of the trip to come. We soon learn that Duke is on his way to Vegas to cover a motorbike race in the desert, but this is hardly the focus of the story (if such a word can be used to describe this insane series of events.) Instead, the reader is carried from one bizarre circumstance to the next by the drug-addled mind of Duke. The lack of a structured plot can often work to a novels detriment, but the result here is an incredibly funny and unpredictable tale, that can only really be described as completely batty.
That is not to say it is without substance. Thompson’s novel provides a rare insight into the heart of the hippy movement that swept across America during the late 60s. In one of the most well-known passages of the book, Thompson mulls over the subculture he had been a part of, commenting on it’s scale and impact, and mourning it’s end. Despite this, do not pick up this book expecting a serious exploration of late ‘60s youth culture, as you will instead find a raucous account of two men’s wild weekend in an equally wild city. Whether or not you have seen the film, and whatever your stance on psychotropic substances, Hunter S. Thompson’s wacky novel is definitely a must read.