Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream – Hunter S. Thompson

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a short book that took me ages.
It’s characters were on crack, cocaine, and smack.
It was funny, fast, and outrageous.

I wrote this limerick after immediately after finishing the book. I don’t know what you’re supposed to take from that but I feel it’s worth mentioning.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the semi-autobiographical novel written by Hunter S. Thompson and tells the story of what transpires over the course of a weekend when a journalist and his attorney travel to Las Vegas for a weekend to cover a desert race and to find the American dream. Cruising through the desert in a 1971 Chevy Impala Convertible, armed with a trunk full of every drug imaginable, a Colt Python Snub, and a backseat full of beers.

Given the novel’s anarchic nature and heavy themes of drug use, it seemed only appropriate for me to write this review in a similar manner, so you’ll be pleased to know I’ve just got myself pumped by consuming a large amount of coke. By which I mean the soft drink Diet Coke. Pretty rock ‘n’ roll.

The story begins with the narrator and his attorney speeding through the desert, high and drunk, in a fast car with the roof down. What follows is a nihilistic, despicable, hilarious, and hugely entertaining weekend which involves crime, debauchery, and loads of drugs. The narrator and his attorney are like a hurricane ripping its way through Las Vegas and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

fear and loathing in las vegasAt a glance, you may think the book is merely the tale of two destructive nihilists pushing their limits, but Thompson is far too good to settle with that. The book also touches on the American dream and America’s crisis of confidence during the Vietnam war.

The ugly side of Las Vegas is also explored and Hunter examines the place, warts and all. Las Vegas is as much a character in this book as the narrator and his attorney and Thompson does an amazing job of capturing the underbelly of Las Vegas, a place where a confident walk and a wink can get you whatever you want.

The book begins with a quote from Samuel Johnson which reads: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” The theme of escaping through excess is perhaps the most prominent one and it could be argued that the binge is like a holiday away from the real world for both the narrator and his attorney. Like the Joker tells Batman in The Killing Joke; “Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away…forever.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Official cartoons by friend of Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Steadman.

In a society that was tearing its self apart, it’s easy to see a strange parallel between the two drug fueled characters and the world around them. They may be unhinged, unpredictable, and utterly on the edge, but at least they know it. Perhaps the lunatic who knows he’s deranged is saner than the lunatic who is equally mad but is pretending everything fine?  All in all, trying to “review” Fear and Loathing is as difficult as trying to find the American dream. It’s not one thing you can pin down, it’s an idea, a piece of abstract, and it will mean different things to different people. I think I would recommend the book to pretty much anybody, not because I think it’s a journey worth taking at least once. You might not love it, you might hate it, but you won’t ever forget it.

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