Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hunter S. Thompson- The Great Shark Hunt- Strange Tales from a Strange Time

The Great Shark Hunt- Strange Tales from a Strange Time
Picador Press
  Hunter S. Thompson
1979 (Collected)

“I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling.”

“In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely.”

First of all, Hunter S. Thompson is probably the most quotable author I know, and settling on a quote for this review was really hard, so I went with two. Secondly, this is the fifth installment in my frantic (well, ish) attempt to catch up with the list of books I'd read and not reviewed, which puts me more than half way there. For a lazy writer like me, this is somewhat of an achievement.

Anyway, this brings me to my latest review and it's my second Hunter S. Thompson one, after Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. If you can remember, or just clicked the link and trawled through my rambling nonsense, I wasn't as much of a fan of that book as I'd like to be, though I did gain a positive impression of it overall. Basically the deal with that one is that I frantically admire, adore and worship Thompson's ability to select his vocabulary and manipulate his prose like a true genius, like a modern-day-drug addled Thomas de Quincy (he who wrote the book of which I stole and adjusted the title of for this blog) or Joseph Conrad (Thompson's quest to track down Ricard Nixon reminded my of the hunt for Kurtz in Heart of Darkness)- I like him that much. It's just the topic matter that I don't care enough about; like when Paul Auster inserts an article about baseball in a novel I'm enjoying.

The Great Shark Hunt- Strange Tales from a Strange Time is somewhat like Campaign Trail '72 in that both are collections of Thompson articles and columns from a set period. The latter was a pre-planned series following one topic, but this collection is far more open, collecting the author's most notable work from the late fifties until the end of the seventies, for famous publications such as Rolling Stone, Playboy & The New York Times as well as some very early articles writing for the US air force.

The subjects of these angrily-written, expletive-ridden, extravagant prose filled articles are generally the things that Thompson was most interested in. This means lots of articles about politics, and about the world of politics. Nixon and Jimmy Carter are constant targets of aggressive analysis, as is the Watergate scandal of course. Altogether the politics encompasses around half of the book, which I had mixed feelings about. As in Campaign Trail, I learned a little and enjoyed a little more about the 70's US politics scene, but the aspects that I enjoyed (namely Thompson's ability to portray the world in the way he does) were swamped by a deluge of names of people and societies that I've never heard of before, and so the deep context alienated me as a reader somewhat.

Everything else, though was very entertaining and interesting. The first part of the book is short but intriguing, containing a selection of Thompson's air force work. The character within his writing is totally clear and identifiable, but it's the thought of Thompson writing for the establishment (and failing to meet their standards) which is interesting. Part two of the book is the politics stuff. Some of it is taken directly from Campaign Trail and included as extracts, which is basically just a way of ripping the buying reader off. The third part of the book was the one that appealed to me most, as it avoids politics and instead focuses on travel and culture; looking at the beat generation, at South America. The book concludes with a focus on Thompson's gonzo influence, and the Fear and Loathing name.

This book isn't going to appeal to many people who pluck it randomly from the shelf, and, ironically, it'll never be as recognised as the amazing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it's definitely the place to go for newer fans of Thompson who've just finished Raoul Duke's story, and also for readers particularly into the post-beat movement. While there are plenty of great full novels from that period, these shorter snippets of encapsulated life offer a manic, ingenious, and unique view into a fascinating artistic world.