68 of 73 people found the following review helpful
I was reluctant to read this novel even though it was highly recommended. That's because five years ago I read and reviewed "Underworld", another of this author's novels, and while I thought that the writing was brilliant, his world view was very disturbing. But I was curious about Cosmopolis. And it was short, a mere 209 pages long, a book I knew I could easily read in one sitting. It took me more than one sitting to read however. It actually took me several weeks. That's because every time I put it down, I was reluctant to pick it up again. Perhaps that's because it rings so true and its blows fall so close to home. And, of course, the disturbing world view I had expected was there in all its glory.
The characters aren't real. They're not supposed to be. Everything in this book is larger than life. And everything has an exaggerated bitter sting to it. The setting is New York City and the geography is familiar. It's some time in the very near future, when big-moneyed corporate executives rule the world even more than they do now. Eric, a 28-year old billionaire is one of them. The storyline is about him setting out to get a haircut and all the action takes place in a single day.
Eric is in a white limousine which is equipped with every convenience the author could think of. He has several bodyguards too, and a market analyst who interprets data from world markets constantly. People visit him in his limo, including a doctor who gives him a daily physical. Eric also manages to have romantic encounters with three different women as well as his wife. He makes choices that have him lose his fortune in the stock market. His car is attacked by anarchists. He has to pause and watch a funeral for a rap musician. And he even gets involved in working as an extra in a strange and upsetting film. And, early on in the book, the reader knows Eric is hurtling towards real disaster.
But the book is more than this storyline of course. It is an indictment of the capitalist system that once held out such hope. It shows the shallowness of the people, making every single character seem like a little marionette on strings and the whole tale one big puppet show.
This is a fine book. It is a worthwhile read. I just can't help it though. I hated it.
Recommended only for literary buffs who relish discomfort.
68 of 75 people found the following review helpful
I should profess that I have never read a novel by Don DeLillo before diving into "Cosmopolis." Sure, I have heard of "White Noise," "Underworld," and "Libra" before, but decided to start with this new, short novel about a billionaire stock tycoon and his trip through the wilds of New York City. DeLillo seems to possess many fans in the literary world, rabid readers who devour everything this guy decides to pass off on the public. I usually see him associated with people like Pynchon or Gaddis, post-modern writers who create sprawling works of endless complexity and dubious quality. Since my experiences with the post-modern genre are slight at best, all I have to go on is my experiences with this book.
The plot seems simple enough. Eric Packer, a twenty eight year old Wall Street whiz, decides he wants to get a haircut. Moreover, he sets out on his excursion in a giant, cork lined white limousine with his bodyguards, advisors, doctors, and drivers in tow. Along the way, Packer undergoes a physical examination of a most personal nature, runs into his new wife at various places, witnesses an anarchist protest, gets attacked with a cream pie, becomes emotional about a rapper's funeral, and discovers someone is stalking him with a view to causing serious injury. There is little that ties these events and encounters together, as even the quest for a haircut often drops into the background when Packer bogs down in New York City traffic. Surrounded by computers and an endless flow of information, the billionaire spends most of his time waxing philosophic about the state of the world, the state of his mind, and the state of his attempt to make a killing off the Japanese yen. Ultimately, that is all this novel seems to do: throw out endless noodlings about the emptiness of life in the high tech, over stimulated information age.
DeLillo's writing style is the best thing going for "Cosmopolis." Infused with deep cynicism and a measurable detachment, it still crackles with crisp, short sentences that convey much with little ado. The problem comes when the language puts too much out there, when the reader starts to bog down under the endless litany of Packer's mental ramblings. Although this book is extremely short and can be finished in a day, it still seems too long at times. If there is any point to this tale, or at least where the point seems to assume clarity, it is when Packer and his "advisor on theory" discuss the meaning of the ticker boards with their endless scroll of information and the implications of self-immolating oneself to protest capitalism. Eric's accumulation of information threatens to overwhelm his existence because all he possesses is random bits of information. He cannot seem to tie it all together into any relevant meaning other than making money. There seems to be a germ of hope for him towards the end of the story, but most of the book is merely cerebral gymnastics.
The message of "Cosmopolis," about a man who has everything but wilts under his own inflated ego and goes off on a rampage, is definitely familiar. Bret Easton Ellis did something similar in "American Psycho," and he did it better. Eric Packer and Patrick Bateman are blood brothers, albeit relatives separated by about twenty years. When will these Wall Street archetypes' meltdowns have finality to them? Probably when the capitalist system finally collapses. In the meantime, we have people like Ellis and DeLillo dutifully reporting the carnage of undreamt of riches on the souls of humanity.
Many people out there are quite knowledgeable about DeLillo's body of work and the philosophy that powers them. I can draw no firm conclusions about this author from reading just one of his books. But I strongly suggest thinking twice before plunging into "Cosmopolis." It takes too much effort for too little return.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2003
The 'plot' is a limo ride through a major city. But it's a one-day excursion as much as is Joyce's 'Ulysses.' That one day may just as well be a year, a lifetime or an era. Time is distorted; events are surreal; what seems coincidental, isn't. Don't expect everything to make sense in a rational, cognitive way.
A man begins his day with everything, and ends it with nothing. His ideas, beliefs and body slowly lose their integrity. The story is not a puzzle with clearly edged chunks of interlocking pieces, but a constantly spinning web whose strands are spun by employees, lovers, a wife and a barber. As the story evolves, the man devolves. There's dry wit and Monty Pythonesque lunacy. There's the microcosm reflected in the macrocosm and vice versa. Even when inane, the ideas expressed are fascinating.
COSMOPOLIS sometimes enlightened me, and other times confused me. After my mind digests it a bit, I'll read it again.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2003
There are a lot of people who say that DeLillo doesn't create characters, but rather automatons that spit out obscure theses. These are the same people that think that Platonic dialogues are about what Plato thought rather than what Athens was. DeLillo's characters are not mouthpieces; the ideas these characters voice are indications of the ordering -- or disordering -- of their souls. Like Plato, DeLillo is probing the emotional life of ideas.
Eric Packer, the protagonist, is the epitome of the class of get-rich-quick internet tycoons that came about in the 90s. What marks him as a member of this class is his faith in the power of information technology to predict the future and thus make the future bend to the will of the present. His lusts and manias are a diagnosis of a certain overreaching mindset from which we have not entirely freed ourselves.
However, what distinguishes Eric from his class is that his faith in information technology amounts to being a real religious devotion. Eric is a continuation of DeLillo's investigation into modern manifestations of the desire for religious trascendence. To paraphrase DeLillo, when the old God leaves the world, what happens to all the leftover faith? Eric clings to computer screens the way people once clung to holy texts. In his delusion, he experiences information as a communion with the whole of reality as such: reading a computer screen, he thinks, "Here was the heave of the biosphere. Our bodies and oceans were here, knowable and whole."
But he is also a sort of Oedipus. He does not know who he is. His turn towards technology is a way of escaping something in himself, a past that haunts him. In the end, the book is a story about a man losing his faith and rediscovering, for better and for worse, all the things from which his faith was an escape.
To be sure, this novel is not for everyone. For one thing, DeLillo never really decides whether he wants his fiction to be placed in a realistic or theoretical landscape -- is this our world or some imagined, symbolic world? Perhaps in 50 years we will thank him for refusing to make such a distinction, but for now, the book strains one's ability and willingness to become attuned to it. At the same time, he is moving away from the Joycean lushness of his earlier style towards a Beckettian starkness that many readers will find taxing.
Nevertheless, the book is special for refusing to be what a book is supposed to be. Like the later experimental work of John Coltrane, Cosmopolis is at once exhausting and invigorating.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2004
The dismissive reviews I read of Cosmopolis made me hesitate to buy it. After reading a library copy, I bought Cosmopolis to read a second time. I figure buying the book is the best vote cast in its favor.
Cosmopolis is not a facile entertainment. It requires work on the reader's part. Delillo is exploring territory that, by its nature, eludes description. The mind has well-evolved strategies for perceiving and reacting to the world; non-rational strategies largely inaccessible to waking consciousness; strategies that worked for millennia, now effectively shunted aside and concealed from view - even while they operate continuously in clandestine ways. How do you view or talk about this hidden stuff? You can't name it because language by nature is rational and this, by its nature, is not.
Delillo gives us a metaphor. Cosmopolis. It is incongruous. It doesn't match our world or its usual fictionalized portraits. The reader tries to fit the world s/he knows with the metaphor - it can't be done, it's incongruous. But in trying, the reader starts to sense an opening into something that is neither our world nor its metaphor Cosmopolis, something rising out of the tension between them.
The book is an exploration into the tension between the normal surface of things and an animating underworld we know is there but hardly know. Reading, rereading Cosmopolis, thinking about it is like opening a door in the mind that leads to rooms not often visited.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2003
Much like Nietzsche's, Delillo's writing hits hard, blunt truths which may not resonate as you first read them, but seem to subltly speak to something beyond. This is not to say that Delillo is a flagrant cynicist or ironist. I find him way too dry for that. Not that that is a negative statement, in my opinion. Nevertheless, this book promises more than many reviewers gave it credit for. The territory may not be brand-spanking new, but the story is compelling, rather intriguing and has some nice twists in it. Minor characters don't get their due, but the main character provides enough reason to read on and the antagonist (in the looser sense of the word) also serves as a nice tangent from the main vein of the narrative. What continues to compell me about Delillo is his need to depict, as if by camera, what is happening in his novels, through his crisp sentences. His prose is almost geometric, the way it sets up angles and perspective. Almost every sentence is like a cross-section of the culture we live in. Because his novesl are embedded in history, I believe we may be looking back at Delillo in 40, 50, 75 years from now, trying to see "what it was really like" back then. Like a timecapsule in a book.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2003
Don DeLillo again shows that he's our best novelist of American absurdity with this strange off-kilter comedy that centers around the events of an eventful day in Manhattan.
Against a backdrop of raves, a Presidential motorcade, a rock star's funeral, mysterious street demonstrations and the constant, ghostly electronic feed of news of pending financial disaster, a young billionaire asset manager limousines uptown to get a haircut in order to embrace his sense of inevitable, personal apocalypse. DeLillo's writing is outstanding, funny with a cool lyricism, poetic when you least expect it.
The brillance here, as with "White Noise" and especially "Mao ll" is the way characters seek to reconfigure their metaphors, their assuring base of references , once their world view is rattled and made less authortative by unexplainable events and human quirks. This is semiotics at its best, an erotic activity where DeLillo probes and glides over the surfaces of ideas , notions, theories and their artifacts, things intellectual and material emptied of meaning, purpose.
It's a hallmark of DeLillo's mastery of language that he gets that psychic activity that constantly tries to reinfuse the world with meaning and purpose after the constructions are laid bare; Eric, here in this world of commodity trading, which he regards as natural force that he's mastered and control, attempts to reintroduce mystery into the world he is trapped in. He is bored beyond the grave with the results of his luck.
His efforts to live dangerously , spontaneously and thus get a perception he hadn't had and perhaps secure a hint of a metaphysical infrastructure that eludes, all turn badly, but for DeLillo's art it's not what is found , discovered, or resolved through the extensions of language, but rather the journey itself, the constant connecting of things with other things in the world; this is the poetry of the human need to make sense of things in the great , invisible state beyond the senses, a negoiation with death.
His imagistic tilling of the semiotic field yields the sort of endless irony that makes for the kind of truly subversive comedy, a sort of satire that contains the straining cadences of prophecy. The city, the place where the the hydra-headed strands of commerce, history, technology and government merge in startling combinations of applied power, becomes an amorphous cluster of symbols whose life and vitality come to seem as fragile and short-lived as living matter itself.
A major novel by one of our great literary artists.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2003
After a year passed since I read The Body Artist, I started anticipating what Don DeLillo would write next. While I found The Body Artist to be somewhat of a disappointment, this is still the writer who thrilled me with White Noise and The Names. This is the man who wrote the incredibly beautiful prologue to Underworld. DeLillo can flat out Write.
The basic plot of Cosmopolis follows Eric Packer, a 28 year old billionaire, as he crosses New York City (pre 9/11) in his limo to get a haircut. Such a simple trip takes all day since the President is in town and there is marches, riots and a funeral. At the same time, Packer is told that someone is out to kill him. Confused? Don't worry, DeLillo uses plot as a device to enable him to riff on aspects of society and while the characters do not sound like real people, it is the characters the provide the interest and pacing of the narrative. In Cosmopolis, DeLillo takes on high finance and the lives of the ultra-rich. DeLillo's view is very comic and deeply scathing as he reveals how shallow these lives really are.
As talented as Don DeLillo is as a writer, this was not a very engaging novel. While plot and character are merely devices for DeLillo (instead of being the point), in a better novel this is not a problem and would barely be noticeable. The fact is that all of the characters sound the same and given a different name would be identical to the other characters. There is very little distinction between characters. This is not unusual for DeLillo, but again, in a better novel I wouldn't be thinking about that.
Cosmopolis is a step back in the right direction for DeLillo (after the awful novel The Body Artist), but would still only fall in the middle of his body of work. This is a middle tier novel from a top tier talent.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2004
Cosmopolis is the 13th novel by Don DeLillo. It tells the story of a day in the life of a billionaire asset manager - a day spent mostly in his white stretch limousine, and a day when the currency market crashes (due mostly to his interference) and bankrupts him.
It's also a day anarchists take over Times Square, a day he makes love to his wife for the first time, and the day he sees what he believes is his own demise in his pocket watch.
Were Cosmopolis any longer, I think it would be a failure as a novel. As it is, the unevenness become unbearable toward the last 10 pages or so.
Aside from that, this is a provocative novel with a great array of images, ideas, and characters. Clocking in at 208 pages, it's a perfect length for its subject matter. I loved the passages with his Chief of Theory - she was certainly the most interestingly drawn character.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2003
I've read all Don DeLillo's novels, enjoyed some more than others, and turned friends and students on to them, for years--and after my second reading of *Cosmopolis* I'll say that, in my opinion, this is a masterpiece. He's never been better. The humor of *Americana*, the poignant profundity of *White Noise*, the treatment of relationships in *Mao II*, the grit of *Underworld*, the soaring lyricism of *The Body Artist*...the BEST of them are all present here, in just over 200 pages.
There was a time when I thought DeLillo had a "niche" and that the Zeitgeist had necessarily passed him by--ah, but he's WAY too good. I don't consider him an "Apocolyptic Postmodernist" anymore, if indeed he ever FIT that label which reviewers too commonly affix to his books--if one MUST put it in a phrase, he's a satirical Spiritual Humanist, concerned with personal identity in a frenetic world, with isolation and with loneliness, and with the absurdity of the world that serves as its own complex character in his work.
This is, at first reading, a difficult book--and it's worth it. Authors like, say, Chuck Palahnuik are doing what DeLillo *used* to do--but DeLillo is truly amazing in his ability to adapt to the "times" and continually out-write the younger writers who are so heavily influenced by him.
It occurs to me that if there's a book to compare this to, it's not DeLillo himself but, in sundry strange yet fitting ways, *Notes from the Underground*, by Dostoyevsky. I've read the other reviews here, and I understand, I believe, both the positives and the negatives of what these readers are saying. It took even *me* a second reading to really begin to "get" it--*Cosmopolis* is condensed, very complex, disquieting and challenging.
I'm glad I took the challenge. In the midst of the times in which we live, we're often left reeling--and this book just made me feel so vital, so validated to live in my own skin.