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I know quite a few people really loathe this novel, but I must admit that I have always enjoyed it. Nathanael West’s truly grotesque tale has as much relevance today as it did back in 1939 when it was first published.

Tod Hackett has moved to Hollywood where he has a job in the film industry in the Thirties. Unlike others he isn’t someone trying to be an actor or are bumming around, as West tells us that California is a place where people come to die. Remember that this takes place in the Great Depression, and people who had bought into the American Dream saw it crash around them, leaving them penniless or having to rebuild all over again. As with any recession though certain businesses flourish, such as entertainment, and so the film industry didn’t suffer as other industries did.

Here we meet a host of characters that are intentionally shallow and stereotypical as West drives home his tale of frustration and anger in a deep and bitingly satirical way; this story has teeth and holds on like a pit bull terrier. The characters as such portrayed here are grotesques in one form or another and you could say that this does have a feel of a pantomime in some ways.

As Tod progresses with his painting, The Burning of Los Angeles so he uses the other main characters here as part of his work, but rather like the devil tinkering, what goes on the canvas starts to take a life of its own in the real world. With these outcasts and their perversions, vanity, lies and other failings so everything comes to a head when a new film is being premiered, and thus chaos reigns. With scenes that are slightly surreal as Tod makes his way around the film studio in the hunt for one young lady and the allusion to his name, plus the locust mentioned in the title this does have biblical symbolism, ones that lead to Hell.

If you have never read this before then I would warn you to think about what you are reading, otherwise this may not really come across as it is meant to. It is also worth remembering that when this was first published it was hardly a bestseller, despite some good reviews. It has only been after the author’s death that the book started to gain in popularity and become something that is now recognised as a classic.
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on 5 April 2015
There's little more to say, because I agree with your earlier reviewers, except for the one who says the book ends so suddenly. Yes, but by then the author has stated his case and succinctly - it's a very short novel. It is not so much a story as a snapshot of Hollywood at its most decadent. Anyone who has read "Hollywood Babylon" will know that the 1920s and 1930s comprised the most decadent and sordid era of Hollywood - drugs, alcoholism, rape.For me there was nothing unexpected in this book, but I thought it dealt well with the Hollywood of that era, with a man [Tod] who is a talented artist, but who becomes embroiled in the really messy side of the film capital in the shape of the woman Faye. Some of the other characters, such as the Mexican, could better have been described by Hemingway and I felt the whole business of cock fighting reminded me of Hemingway's obsession with bull fighting - but not quite. However, unlike the lengthy novels of Hemingway [For Whom The Bell Tolls in particular], it is an easy read and it is a page-turner. A must for all serious readers of fiction who like to explore all aspects of humanity.
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on 14 December 2015
I've been wanting to read this American classic ever since it was recommended in RV Cassill's The Writing of Fiction, which read when I was much younger than I am now. It's taken a shockingly long time to get around to read it. But I am glad I did. It is a modest book, crisp, terse and eloquent. The central character is 25 years old, and like many 25 year olds (including myself when I was that age) he seems a bit lost. I works in Hollywood in the thirties as a set designer, but doesn't push himself too hard. His wry observations of the Hollywood scene give the novel its flavour. He finds himself drawn to a young lady of dubious morals who wants to be a movie star. But you suspect that the only reason he's trying his luck with her is because he is bored. And who else is there? None of this sounds like promising literary material. But Nathanael West makes it work.
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on 16 August 2014
A brutal dismemberment of the myth of Hollywood Glamour. Wonderfully written & thoroughly evocative of the period we all think we know so intimately as the 'Golden Age of the Movies' No sign of the stars here, West's characters are one mis-step away from the gutter...

Vicious & venal men, rapacious women, & the poor, lost saps who, as the cynical narrator puts it, have come to Hollywood to die.. this version of the American dream is really the first circle of hell, in which the narrator, an artist who has come to Hollywood as a designer (everyone here is connected to, part of or consumed by 'The Movies' in one way or another) is painting a huge canvas of Los Angeles burning like Pandemonium, while the crowd of first-night movie fans turns into a ravening mob, hungry for blood...

A dark tragedy of a book, not for everyone, but if you enjoy exploding myths, dark humour & the exposure of the darkness beneath the surface of the world, you will enjoy this...And it's proof that, in Holly-Weird as in much else, "the more thing change, the more they stay the same.
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on 15 February 2014
I just reviewed the film of the book directed by John Schesinger. I loved both but I'd recommend that anyone drawn into the nightmare vision of the movie reads the book as well. It's an easy fast read but fills in much that film can't depict, such as the sequence where Tod searches for would-be starlet Faye Greener throughout the studio backlots, and the madness of the system becomes apparent as he fights his way through the disparate sets and costumed freaks of a society that has no history or centre. It's all jumbled up and devours everyone like a huge remorseless, relentless juggernaut. Nathanael West's ability to write visually is the best.
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on 24 May 2014
This book is strangely addictive but I could never put my finger on why.

I felt the entire book was building to something that never really came. As if I was on the edge of my seat waiting for something to happen and then as it seemed it would... it ended.

Not to put a downer on the book, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it, just didn't live up to itself (if that makes sense).
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on 27 May 2013
Two stories from the Ameriacan Depression - the 1940s depression that is! These books are a must read - the characters in the book are so defined that it feels like you're 'in the room' with them. And you don't want to be. You can't forget about them when you finish the books either... Dark and deep stories of shallow personalities at a desperate time.
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on 13 October 2017
Captures well the desperation and seediness of early Hollywood wannabes.
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on 23 May 2017
Couldn't finish this book. Recommend to me but just couldn't 'get it'
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on 24 January 2015
There aren't many sympathetic characters in this book. Even the protagonist is a bit of a bastard, if I remember rightly.

Someone obviously doesn't like the film business!
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