Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Review: Kingdom of Fear, Hunter S. Thompson (2003)

Published two years before his death by suicide, this autobiography contains a series of sketches written in the author's trademark gonzo style. We'll have to wait for the earnest paper-shufflers out of the Iowa Writing School for run-of-the-mill versions, compendious autobiographies filled with reminiscences and footnotes, and designed to inform rather than entertain.

Subtitled 'Loathsome Secrets of A Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century', this autobiography can claim authenticity. It also contains a lot of facts. But chopped up as the narrative is into short sequences of related stories and anecdotes, these facts do not amount to much more than your average English undergraduate already knows.

What Thompson gives us, instead, is an honest self-appraisal. As to be expected, he doesn't regret much. But rather than self-congratulatory, he seems more puzzled and abashed by the seemingly relentless set of ungovernable escapades he has been involved in - and involved himself in - in his adult life as an acclaimed writer.

He does not go into much detail about himself before fame struck him, as we know it did in the wake of the publishing of his new journalistic expose, Hell's Angels. I bought this book today in a regional shopping centre. I paid for it. I did not pay for the Penguin copy of the autobiography. My mother paid for this. We bought it at the bookshop attached to the Queensland State Library in South Bank.

I think Thompson would have liked Brisbane, especially the way young people wear T-shirts in the dead of winter and the way office workers generally eschew the respectability of the full suit-and-tie in favour of the more wearable zipped jacket and open-collar shirt. He would have loved South Bank but no doubt would have had some unexpected adventure there involving the three-dimensional rendition of the culture precinct which is mounted on a stand in the library forecourt and a pair of Chinese university students. The kids corner of the Gallery of Modern Art - where you are invited to draw with paintbrushes and pots of water on a group of grey granite stones - would have had him in stitches.

But there you go. Thompson will never visit Queensland and we are deprived due to this manifest lack of meaningful engagement with an Australian cultural icon.

But we get plenty of other things, including a love story. In the final segment of the autobiography a girl he has picked up in California says he has "the soul of a teenage girl in the body of an elderly dope-fiend". I feel it's not quite fair to end on this note, as it could cast an unattractive light on the author, who is not meant to congratulate himself excessively.

Had he visited Queensland he may have had other ideas. Had he visited Queensland with the girl - whose name was Anita - he may have been celebrated. The premier and the chief executive officer of the state library would then have congratulated Queensland for bringing a cultural icon to Brisbane while - chuckle - New South Wales missed out.

I seem to recall that Thompson married Anita. Are there any English undergraduates who can help me out here? I seem to have lost my memory back on page 158.

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