Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel, Cosmopolis was a very prophetic piece of literature. It foresaw the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, and while it makes for timely reading today (hot on the heels of David Cronenberg’s film adaptation starring Robert Pattinson), there’s just one slight problem – it’s not very good.
The book follows Eric Packer, a 28 year old billionaire travelling across New York City on a busy day, in search of a haircut. The US President is in town, there is social unrest and the funeral of a popular rap-star is taking place. Oh, and there is also a threat on his life.
DeLillo’s prose is very stark and clinical, much like his protagonist. It suits the character, but too much of it comes across as pretentious, he’s trying too hard. It doesn’t help that Packer isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, and that his urgent need for a haircut on the other side of the city just doesn’t ring true. It’s not all bad news. The world of Cosmopolis is rich in detail and DeLillo has clearly done his homework. We get to learn what it is like to be a billionaire in the 21st Century and what pleasures await inside large stretched-limousines (both physically and materially). However, that isn’t enough to hold the attention when reading a novel which is as superficial as its main character.
The current world makes Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis an interesting read, but I don’t think that there’s enough there to make the book one for the ages.