Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but superseded by Ellroy..., 30 Dec 2009
This review is from: Libra (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Your reaction to this book depends, I think, on whether you have read James Ellroy's trilogy of America in the 1950s and 1960s. Ellroy himself cites Libra as an inspiration, and you can see the connections and overlaps.

If you haven't read Ellroy, then Libra reads as an entertaining blend of fact and fiction, and an interesting depiction of Lee Harvey Oswald. It depicts the `conspiracy' as part-deliberate, part-accidental, part-malicious and part-farcical. Which may well be an accurate concoction. When it was written, it was certainly an unusual and insightful way of approaching something that already seemed done to death.

If you have read American Tabloid et al, then the deficiencies in Libra begin to stand out even more starkly. Ellroy succeeded where Delillo failed. Ellroy made the conspirators a set of three-dimensional beings; tangible in their flaws and foibles, zealous in their chaotic politics, capable and yet easily dismantled. Ellroy also brought the Kennedys and their acolytes to life - vital if the reader of forty years later is to truly feel the sense of the era, and what drove extremists within it. Delillo does none of these things - his conspirators are too slight, and flit in and out of the narrative too much. The absence of the high-level politics in Washington is a serious omission - the reader needs to really understand why Cuba and the Bay of Pigs still mattered so much to these characters, and why they could countenance shooting their own President. Without this strategic view, the motivations fail to convince.

In addition, where Ellroy has a drive and a pace to his narrative, Delillo's falls flat generally, and especially in the middle third. Ruby is introduced far too late; he seems an afterthought and merely clutters up what should have been the acceleration towards a climax. I agree with other reviewers who found the last forty pages poorly thought-out and badly delivered.

In summary, this may have been a stand-out book when it was written, and deserves props for its ambitious approach and interesting angles. However, once Ellroy got going, he showed how this book should have been written.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Dec 2010 21:40:30 GMT
Hubert says:
Well, maybe - I started American Tabloid but I had to abandon it after it became clear that Ellroy can't write a sentence longer than four words these days. I'd sooner sandpaper my own head off than read a whole book of his miserably terse sentences. Delillo, however, writes beautiful prose.
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