Underwhelming

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I want to bottle-fuck you slowly with my sunglasses on. Well, there’s something to try out next time you’re in Filth. Yum. These are words spoken by Eric Packer, the central figure in Don DeLillo’s new novel, Cosmopolis (Picador, £16.99), to one of his many women. The moral throughout the book is the corrupting power of capital: DeLillo creates a Capitalist nightmare/ dream in which he places a man utterly devoid of human sensation. His only forays into feeling consist of bestial urges, eating and screwing. And abusing drink receptacles too, apparently. Ultimately, the super-rich, superbright twenty-something dot com entrepreneur discovers that his only hope of escape from a dampened existence is in his own destruction at the hands of a rambling former-employee. DeLillo has been internationally lauded and won many awards for critically acclaimed best-sellers like Americana and more lately, Underworld. I haven’t read either. If I were to judge this author by this book, I wouldn’t bother. It’s never nice admitting publicly that you aren’t impressed by a book, especially one that seems to promise so much. Reading it, you can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a cop-out – the half-fulfilment of an idea that could be fascinating, were it not something we are already aware of and familiar with. His prose is blunt with its own poetic concision, but is never quite as punchy as he might have hoped. There are brilliantly executed moments in the novel. For example, some of the most interesting passages in the book are those that depict Packer’s thoughts as he lies awake before starting his day. The theme of order against disorder, patterns in chaotic economy, is also effective and cleverly wrought, as is Packer’s unsettling indifference to almost everything around him. Overall, though, it’s somewhat disappointing. It’s not that this book lacks style or interest – DeLillo’s images of a bleak, looming city are effective, as is the fragmented, passionless progress of Packer’s day, giving form to the notion of the loss of human sentiment. Once you grasp the direction in which the novel’s headed, though, nothing spectacular happens; maybe DeLillo intended this, but it doesn’t bring anything to the narrative itself.The flaw of this book is that it reveals nothing particularly new. We have now all heard of Anti- Capitalist movements, and their arguments; we have all witnessed immense political and corporate ambition. Cosmopolis, then, presents a strong dystopian vision, and one that is, in itself, not impossible to foresee. Read it, by all means, and enjoy its many strengths but don’t hope for much more than a depiction of how a modern yuppy realises the vapidity of his existence.
ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2003

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