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Hollywood: Number 5 in series (Narratives of empire) Paperback – 2 Apr 1994
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Addictive ... almost indecently entertaining (NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW)
Rich, readable stuff, and only Vidal could make it work (FINANCIAL TIMES)
Gore Vidal's magnificent series of historical novels or novelised histories' Gabriel García Márquez
* The fifth novel in the chronology of Vidal's epic NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE, embodying the passage of American history.See all Product description
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In addition to the usual characters of the Sanford sibs and Sen. Day, at the center of the novel is Woodrow Wilson. You watch his decline, at once political - he loses his grip on the nation's political imagination with WWI and then the wrangle over the League of Nations - and physical. While he was indeed a messianic idealist, Vidal also creates a very human portrait of him that I read as sympathetic and, while typically sarcastic, almost entirely lacking in vidalian cynicism. You get Wilson's vision of the future as well, which events were surpassing as he dug in his heals, pointing directly to WWII. The nation at war, with all of the moral principles so blithely thrown about, also appeared to me as a prescient evocation of a key part of the American character, its narcissistic belief in the face of contrary evidence that it always acts for a righteous cause on the good guys side - just look at the current war in Iraq! More particularly, Vidal portrays the repression of free speech and the blatant hypocracy in light of our stated constitutional ideals.
But there is also WG Harding and his courtiers, who added up to a disastrous mix of executive inattention and the crudest corruption, complete with murdered scapegoats. This too is a huge part of the American system, the desire to let things go and seek the good life while the rats are chewing out the bottom of the barrel. Sound familar? Again, it seems so prescient.
Lastly, there is a taste of the power that Hollywood was becoming. This was the most unexpected part for me, as I am a hardened political junkie and quite ignorent of this part of American culture. Essentially, Vidal questions whether the incipient movie moguls' vision - that of shaping the dreams of the American psyche - will become more important than the shenanigans going on in Wash, DC. As such, his characters see a progression from politicians telling people what to believe, through Hearst's yellow journalism evoking what they should fear, to the far deeper tappng into the public's collective unconscious. That Vidal succeeds in getting a person as jaded as I am to take a new look at so many things is indeed a feat.
Recommended as one of the best of the series. Now that I have read them all, I feel I must go back through the entire series to see more subtle linkages. This series is a wonderful experiment in a new style of hyper novel.
Compulsive and addictive reading.
The condition of the outside of the book definitely leaves to be desired because it is rather worn though in quite a nice kind of way. Luckily the inside looks as though no one had read much of it at all, so it's still quite virgin pages-wise. The later pages particularly haven't been meddled with in any way, anyway definitely not by having been read. And that's the way I like my books to be until I get to mess them up myself.
Perhaps someone bought it at a station for a journey and then found better things to do than to read it. It's the carrying about that looks to have careworn this book and made it look just that tired.