Sunday 28 June 2009

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

Like every DeLillo novel I've read so far (which isn't a lot; this is the 3rd), this one was well written, often brilliantly written, completely different from anything else by him I've read, and somehow left me subtly dissatisfied.

A hyperkinetic novel that reads like something penned by the lovechild of two Williams, Burroughs and Gibson, it veers between the former's breathless philosophical and sexual pomp and the latter's endless obsession with surface, with data and with pattern.

A day in the life of a ridiculously wealthy man who has made a fortune successfully predicting currency market trends. He cruises around town in his limo, having sex with his female aides and sharing obscenely cyberchic conversations with his male aides, apart from his main bodyguard whom he hardly talks to at all aside from killing him before heading out to face a high-risk assassination threat solo. Along the way, he has random encounters with a wife he hardly seems to know and also pisses away his entire fortune by betting against a steadily rising Yen.

There's little character logic here, just a roller-coaster ride through how DeLillo imagines a billionaire-whizkid getting long in the tooth at 29 might live and work and think, with sundry speculations on the outdated origins of common terms for gadgets ('ATM' with its embedded memory of that archaic thing, the teller, or the childish rhyme of 'walky-talky'), throwaway cool-sounding aphorisms and the standard trappings of a novel telegraphing how contemporary it is - a rave party in a gutted theatre, the funeral of a Sufi rapper (what frightens me most is that Sufi trap is a musical trend as inevitable as it will be deeply repugnant), a hi-tech limo stuffed with the latest info-devices, a voice-operated gun and so on and so forth. Is the protagonist's quest for a haircut, which eventually leads him to his father's old neighbourhood and a confrontation with mortality some sort of wish to regress to childhood and further back to a time before he was born? But didn't he just dismiss Freud (and also Einstein) in the opening pages of the book? What then? Does it mean anything? Dunno.

Compulsively readable but hard to interpret or to take very seriously with all that self-conscious bleeding-edge slickness.

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