Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

I enjoyed Cosmopolis for Don DeLillo's slick writing.  But I found the story to be weird, wild and not altogether satisfactory.  The premise for the story is a fascinating one.  The action takes place during a single day in the life of multi billionaire market investor Eric Packer on a day in April 2000.   We follow Eric as he leaves his 40 plus room luxury New York apartment in his white stretch limousine as it makes its way through the streets of down town Manhattan, where his first order of business for the day is to get a haircut.  But this of course is no ordinary day and in fact becomes Eric's ultimate day of reckoning so to speak, and the hair cut is a very long time in coming.

What follows is a very strange tale as we get to know Eric and his world a whole lot better.  The limo itself is marble floored and cork lined (to keep out the traffic noise) and houses a mind boggling array of screens which display market and currency information.  Different employees and advisors pop in and out of the limo to discuss business with Eric.  Eric also keeps his daily doctor's appointment with his doctor in the back of his limo.  You see for all of Eric's narcissistic brilliance he is paranoid about his health and subjects himself to a daily prostate examination.  I told you this was a weird one!  And that is only the beginning. 

Eric alights from the limo at various times during the day for meals and apparently random sexual hook ups, sometimes with his new wife and sometimes with other of his female associates.  The guy has some stamina.  While all of this is happening, Manhattan has virtually shut down due to  violent anti capitalist protests and the large scale funeral of a much celebrated Sufi rapper.  Eric's body guards are also highly tensed because there have been reports of a credible threat on Eric's life.  Yes, it is seriously all happening in this book.

As I said earlier I really like DeLillo's writing.  He has a truly beautiful and unique writing style that is deceptively simple and full of movement.  DeLillo also uses some interesting literary devices in this novel that I enjoyed.  The image of rats recurs throughout the novel.  The rat appears to symbolise the whole flow and mood of the story.  Again it is odd but effective.  There is a constant hinting at redundancy of things and concepts and this too reveals itself to be very significant for Eric who has built his fortune on anticipating what is going to be relevant next.  It would seem this has become his undoing as now everything feels passe to him and without meaning.

But by the end I was disappointed.  I think partially because the character of Eric is so unlikable and implausible and partially because this epic,  kaleidoscopic montage of a day doesn't really seem to mean all that much once it reaches its grim and dramatic conclusion.   I was also disappointed because I enjoyed DeLillo's The Body Artist very much.  The Body Artist comes together as a glorious whole and I found I could really engage with it.  Cosmopolis,while I found worth reading for the expert writing, left me wanting.  I couldn't engage with the outlandish characters and found it altogether too unreal and grim.


  1. I'm sorry to hear you were disappointed, I remember you saying you had been looking forward to it. Better to have read it though than not read it and wished that you had.

    Is this a new design by the way? I like it

  2. Thanks Becky I had some time on my hands today and decided to go for a cleaner look, plus I tried my hand at adding a couple of pages.

    I hope you are recovering well after your eye op.

  3. This was the first of DeLillo's book I read and it almost put me off him for good. It was so cold and distant and, as you say, weird.

    Then I read Underworld and I concluded that DeLillo is just not an author I care for. There are a couple of his other books that show up on Must Read lists, so I may get to them eventually, but I am not gung ho about it.

  4. Biting Dead Skin off Your Thumb in DeLillo.Players: "He went to the smoking area, where he saw Frank McKechnie standing at the edge of a noisy group, biting skin from his thumb."The Names (about Frank Volterra): "He wore dark glasses and kept biting skin from the edge of his thumb.


Comments are very welcome.