It’s easy to think of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson as little more than a drug-addled freak. This is mostly courtesy of the popularisation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Thompson’s exaggerated, fictional account of a trip to write a 500-word photo caption about a desert rally, which turned into a drug-fuelled disaster in Vegas. Thanks to this and Terry Gilliam’s movie adaptation, we’re left with a powerful image of a degenerate addict.
However, this biography shows us a different side of Thompson. The rabble-rowser remains and there’s no denying the drugs, but we also see the political activist, the literary influences and the deep-rooted work ethic that helped elevate Thompson to superstar status.
Despite a healthy page count, it feels like the book merely scratches the surface of Thompson’s life. However, by snatching key elements from across Thompson’s days, particularly the early years, the book stretches our perception of who Thompson is, beyond the cliché of his lifestyle.
The art is scratchy, sharp, well paced but ultimately disappointing. Thompson is inextricably linked with the art of Ralph Steadman, and this monochromatic view pales in comparison. In places it’s sketchy and rushed – something that feels like it goes against the grain of Thompson’s own attitude to his craft, and therefore out of place in his biography.
The upshot is that this feels a bit light and cherry-picked to offer much insight into Thompson’s life, despite its insistence on taking the subject matter seriously. However, those who only know Thompson through Terry Gilliam’s film and want a springboard to further study will see an alternate character here – a hard grafting and conscientious journalist, looking to change American writing in the same way his heroes did.