Billionaire with the Blues; Don DeLillo's Latest Tale of Murder and Antiheroes Is a Trip Back to the Nineties

By Macfarlane, Robert | The Evening Standard (London, England), April 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

Billionaire with the Blues; Don DeLillo's Latest Tale of Murder and Antiheroes Is a Trip Back to the Nineties


Macfarlane, Robert, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: ROBERT MACFARLANE

COSMOPOLIS by Don DeLillo (Picador, pound sterling16.99)

THE first thing one notices about all of Don DeLillo's characters is that they never pause or hesitate. They speak in perfectly turned and concluded sentences. Most of them speak in essays.

Somewhere, DeLillo must have a very big book filled with these expurgated "ums", "errs" and pauses. Or perhaps he gives them all to Harold Pinter.

Eric Packer, the implausibly articulate antihero of Cosmopolis, could have been written by no one other than DeLillo. Packer is the 28-yearold head of Packer Capital, a massive Manhattan investment company.

He is a financial forecaster whose predictive skills have made him a multibillionaire.

He owns a decommissioned nuclear bomber and a 48-room apartment with features including a shark tank, gymnasium and a borzoi pen.

Packer's capital has not, however, brought him happiness.

Regular threats to his life mean that he has to "move around the city without patterns" in the white stretch limousine that is his second office.

More seriously, as a man whose job it is to live in the future, Packer has no meaningful present-tense experience. He has - an abiding concern of DeLillo's fiction - come to disbelieve the possibility of authenticity.

Cosmopolis describes the final 24 hours of Packer's life.

He spends it in his limo, being driven through New York and taking increasingly dramatic steps to reclaim a sense of the real for himself.

He orders his proctologist to verify the symmetry of his prostate gland while he is talking to a female colleague.

He has his Lara Croftian bodyguard ("a woman of straps and belts") zap him erotically with her stun-gun ("the voltage jellified his musculature for 10 or 15 minutes").

He shoots dead his head of security, Torval, to see what it feels like.

Eventually, and predictably - a word one uses with care in a novel about prediction - Packer engineers his own murder.

ALL the themes of this dissatisfying story will be familiar to DeLillo fans: the social life of information, the effect of space and architecture on mentality, the loss of "reality". …

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