In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Hunter S. Thompson has crafted a crazed, depraved, shocking, insightful, uncontrolled, tightly wrought and studied prose roman a clef novel that centres around the aftermath of the counter culture revolution of the 1960s. Taking the reader on a hedonistic trip to Las Vegas, the underbelly of the American Dream is exposed as a lizard infested snake pit that needs to be railed against constantly.
If you haven’t read the book before, it’s a fictional story that follows Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr Gonzo on their wild journey to Las Vegas, off their tiny little teats on a concoction of alcohol and drugs. Sort of autobiographically, based on a similar trip by Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, Fear and Loathing is, for us, a loaded set of questions about what went wrong with the counter cultural revolution of the the 1960s and the forces that stood before it.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the genius of the wave speech, in which Thompson likens the end of the era to a “high and beautiful wave” that crashed and slipped back. It is within the rest of the novel that in and among the churning prose Mr. Duke exposes the crest’s demise to a backward seep of corrosive depravity, excess and the infiltration of the less sublime tying in well with the history of the period.
It’s easy to romanticise the 60s, because there are many positive and beautiful features to look back on with nostalgia, but the reality is that there were a lot of negatives in the mix, both inside the counter culture revolutionaries and the wider American society and government. Published in 1971 it comes just four years after the summer of love, but two years after the Altamont speedway stabbing and the Manson family murders, so it’s centred in the highs and lows of the counterculture perception.
Illustrated by Ralph Steadman, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an amazing book that has to be read to be believed, and even then you’ll be left with doubts. Fast paced, brutal and beautiful all at the same time, it’s a book that has be read to be believed and re-read to be understood.
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas review: 4.5/5