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Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

I’m a little behind in the scheduling of things in terms of read & reviewed, which is directly attributable to those chaps at Unbound again and their uncanny knack of sending me great books to read just when I should be tucking up in bed the last fellow. This time the delay was due to Charles Fernyhough and the opportunity seized to be his first official reviewer – job done – and the imminent release by the same company of Paul Kingsnorth’s intriguing novel of Hereward “The Wake” which led to me to a much overlooked biography by Peter Rex (of Hereward, not Paul Kingsnorth). However, I now find that my wife prefers reading Fifty Shades of Grey to talking to me, so I appear to have a little time to devote to the neglected Don DeLillo and his svelte little sideswipe, Cosmopolis.

O God O Man living high at last /
Sucking the titmilk of prayer and fast.
Brother Fez
Fortuitously, since finishing the novel my brain was infected by the eponymous David Cronenberg film starring R-Patz. I say fortuitously as, despite it being a film with R-Patz, it was, as is often the case with Cronenberg, pretty damned faithful to the novel, at least when it comes to dialogue. We do lose lots of the narrator’s own soliloquies and also the rather odd diary entries – more of that later. In essence, the film managed to crystallize in my brain large portions of the novel which may have otherwise been gently expunged from my mind along with long division and Nicholas Cage’s real name by the less than gentle abrasion of more work-related buffoonery. But that’s not important.

What is important is the almost poetic way that DeLillo goes about dismantling the post modern experience via his supra-human Eric Packer, multi-billionaire and futures trader, who through one fantastic day’s journey in his stretch limo – a limo just like everyone else’s limos because it marks him out as “a powerful person who chooses not to demarcate his territory with singular driblets of piss” – travels the short journey from rich, powerful and completely in control to poor, alone and remarkably, dead, because he fancies a cross-town trip during what must be the busiest day in New York ever recorded just for the nostalgia of a haircut at the barber to which his father used to take him. The language is constantly questioning everything, and at the same time making definitive statements. Packer punctuates his speech with the word “what”, a typical New Yorker version of the Australian Rising Interrogative Inflection but thrown into sentences with no preamble making the reader almost repeat it to understand it. Meanwhile, he uses the word “This” to emphasise things he know to be true, and so does his chief of security, Torval, a man with a hidden sexual agenda and whose fate is tied to the mysterious Nancy Babich – I’ll leave that little mini-spoiler for you to wonder about – and who loves to itemize the current threats against his employers life with the word “this” instead of merely numbering them. Yet as Packer inches towards his destiny, burning his fortune buying a worthless currency he seems convinced will follow his predictions (whilst agonizingly for the reader not feeling any cognitive dissonance at the fact he knows it will not – doubt does not exist in his world) and laying scorn on the faded tropes and taxonomies of the modern world – telephones, computers, skyscrapers are already outdated words still used to describe technologies that have transcended their original form – his hubristic demise is sign-posted by the intrusion of what Cronenberg decides is persiflage in cinematic terms, the diary of his killer.

There are so many things about this novel that I would love to draw your attention to – the violence eddying around his “corked” oasis of calm, the startlingly brilliant passage describing Packer’s reaction to the funeral of rapper Brother Fez, Packer’s almost complete estrangement from the ordinary humanity of those around him (so much so that he shoots himself in the hand, seemingly to remind himself of his own sensory perceptions), his preternatural obsession with monitors and screens which beam hyper-reality into his eyes split seconds before it occurs in real real-time – but that would take enjoyment away from your own discovery of this frankly awesome novel. But before I leave you to rush out and pick it up (read it before you see the movie, please, and I promise you’ll have that much more respect for David Cronenberg), the best thing about this novel is Eric Packer’s asymmetrical prostate.

“You should have listened to your prostate” Packer is told. “But you forgot something along the way.”
“What?”
“The importance of the lopsided, the thing that’s skewed a little... That’s where your answer was, in your body, in your prostate.”

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