Things I’m Reading Thursday #22

What I’m reading this week…

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo
Confession (why does TiRT so often begin with me confessing to something shameful?): until last week, I’d never read any Don DeLillo. I know — it’s like Elliott Smith all over again. People have been saying to me for years “check this guy out, you’ll like him, promise”, and I’ve been nodding and then ignoring them, and as it turns out, that was a very silly mistake.
What I needed of course was for a gorgeous man upon whom I had a massive crush to casually suggest in passing that I should maybe read some DeLillo, by the way. Obviously that’s the only catalyst guaranteed to get me running for the nearest bookstore (I know, I have no shame). As it happened, the nearest bookstore was the utterly fabulous Word Power, and Cosmopolis was the only DeLillo novel they had in stock. So I bought it.

That was at about 1pm-ish. The rest of that day was spent inside the novel. The last book I read in one sitting was probably Russell Hoban’s Kleinzeit (recommended if you like DeLillo, by the way), which was a good few years ago now — I’d forgotten quite what a weird feeling it is to look up from finishing a novel and find you’ve lost an entire day of your life.

But weird in a good way — I absolutely loved Cosmopolis. In short, it follows one very eventful 24-hour period in the life (mostly in the limo) of billionnaire asset manager Eric Packer. You follow his every move — you eat breakfast with him, you watch him interact with his entourage of larger-than-life staff — you even get a rather squeamish ringside seat for his daily medical checkup. Stupidly melodramatic and unrealistic things happen one after the other after the other… and yet at the same time, absolutely nothing happens for pages and pages and pages.

I was quite surprised to find that the general feeling among reviewers was (as Wikipedia diplomatically puts it) “mixed to negative”, though on reflection, and having now read some of these reviews, I can take their point. A lot of people have drawn comparisons between Eric Packer and Patrick Bateman, generally coming to the conclusion that Easton Ellis does rich young psychopaths a lot better. Personally, I think it’s an unfair comparison — and one that’s far too obvious. Unlike Bateman (who, like Nabakov’s Humbert Humbert, you find yourself wanting to like in spite of your own better judgement), Packer is almost entirely without personality — you can’t warm to him, you can’t really warm to the people around him either, you’re never invested in the action because you can’t care what happens to Packer. And neither can he — but that’s what kept me gripped. What the hell happened to this person?, I wanted to know. Does money do this to a human being, or is there something deeper? Surely there’s something at the end of this rainbow of overwhelming apathy? I wanted a reason to like or dislike Packer, a reason to root for him, or to wish him dead. DeLillo kept me scrabbling around for that through the entirety of the novel, and the entirety of my afternoon. And of course, I never got it. So hey, I can see why people hated this book — but I always kind of like it when a writer gets one over on me. I thought it was damn brilliant, and can’t wait to read more. Recommendations, anyone? Which DeLillo should I read next?

What are you reading this week?

(Photo by TakenPictures)

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One Response to “Things I’m Reading Thursday #22”

  1. Rob Says:

    DeLillo is about the only novelist, other than Tim Parks, I read everything by. Underworld is amazing if you feel up to it - it’s long! I loved Mao II, a short book but packed with interesting material on crowds, hostage-taking and much else. White Noise is usually cited as the classic DeLillo novel, not without reason. Libra is almost a page-turner, dealing with the Kennedy assassination - tense and gripping. His first book, Americana, is like a road movie with a memorable close. They’re all good. I found Ratner’s Star pretty heavy going.