Hystopia by David Means
Published by Faber & Faber
Published 26 May 2016
NB: I’ve decided to read all of the books long-listed for the Man Booker this year. Other book blogs do this so it seems like a good idea.
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016
At the bitter end of the 1960s, after surviving multiple assassination attempts, President John F. Kennedy has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning from Vietnam have their battlefield traumas “enfolded”-wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy-while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the Psych Corps and re-enacting atrocities on civilians.
This destabilized, alternate version of American history is the vision of the twenty-two-year-old veteran Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book at the centre of Hystopia, the long-awaited first novel by David Means. In Hystopia, Means brings his full talent to bear on the crazy reality of trauma, both national and personal. Outlandish and tender, funny and violent, timely and historical, Hystopia invites us to consider whether our traumas can ever be truly overcome. The answers it offers are wildly inventive, deeply rooted in its characters, and wrung from the author’s own heart.
April’s the cruelest month, they say, but I wouldn’t go that far.
I really didn’t get on with Hystopia. The blurb made it sound interesting and a bit crazy but lots of fun. What a huge disappointment. I found this book long-winded, rambling nonsense for the most part. None of it made a much sense and I spent a lot of time being confused while reading this, scratching my head and starting at the book and wondering what am I reading? I’m not sure what didn’t work apart from the whole thing. Maybe the whole novel-within-a-novel thing isn’t for me? Who knows? I can’t even give specific feedback on what didn’t work. I just disliked the whole novel and the idea of it. At times Hystopia comes across as pretentious at times as if the author is sneering at us mere mortals and has a superiority complex. I’m sure fans will assume I’m not smart enough to understand Hystopia but whatever. Life is too short to read this kind of gibberish. Hystopia is a book you will either love or hate. This is not a middle ground kind of novel (i.e. I liked these bits but this part wasn’t so good), you will love it or hate it, no compromise. I hated it. I’m glad to see the back of it. I really didn’t enjoy anything about it and certainly couldn’t recommend it.
This is my last Booker novel and I’m glad the whole thing is over. I loved the first couple of titles I read but the books have gradually got less and less enjoyable. I read them in a random order. Next year, I’ll just read the shortlisted titles.