Hunter S. Thompson's legendary road-trippin novel follows Raoul Duke and his Attorney, Dr Gonzo, on their drug-fuelled search for the American Dream in Las Vegas. The book that birthed gonzo journalism, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is widely considered as an American literary classic and one which deserves to read again and again in order to enjoy, understand and then simply enjoy once again.
The story itself is actually based on two real-life trips that Thompson took to Las Vegas in 1971 with Oscar Zeta Acosta, who Thompson loosely portrays as his Samoan Attorney in the book. The first trip was to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle and off-road dune buggy race in the desert for Sports Illustrated. His completed assignment to Sports Illustrated after being "aggressively rejected"was submitted to the Rolling Stone magazine, where it got sufficient traction in order for him make another trip back to Vegas to report on the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Within the novel, these two trips are split into two connected Parts.
As one would expect from a novel that first appeared as a two-part series in a magazine, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a short read, but it packs one hell of a punch within its 205 pages and is like nothing else I've ever read. The thing that comes closest to mind when reading the book, isn't so much another book, but instead Quentin Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction.
Written as a first-person narrative of someone heavily under the influence of drugs, the story comes across as completely unscripted, somewhat plotless and a paranoid stream of (sub)consciousness spewing up out of its pages. It is seriously depraved, hedonistic and entirely screwed up. There is some extremely heavy, sick $hit going down amidst all the drug taking, which in certain places makes for extremely uncomfortable reading, but which also bizarrely makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas not just funny, but extremely hiliarious. This is a book that very much demands your full attention and one that requires multiple readings in order to gain maximum benefit.
The question I ask myself though, is it travel literature? If not at its heart, then certainly a good part of it can be construed as the quintessential road trip. Sure, not the road trip that I might take given the cornucopia of drugs including mescaline, amyl, ether, cocaine, uppers, downers, LSD and booze that is consumed en-route. But a road trip all the same, with all the essential components: the open road, a convertible car, a travelling buddy and accompanying hitchhikers, and a final glittering destination - Las Vegas. Out of the many quotes that could be used from the book the one about Las Vegas itself is to me one of the gems: "No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted". I'll leave the final decision on the matter to my Attorney who says you f*c&en better believe it, this is definitely travel-literature and a damned fine example of it too.
4 stars out of 5
Credit: Banner photo by AI R