Hippy days are here again…

January 17, 2021

   Most of Richard Brautigan’s novels have been sitting, slowly decaying, on my bookshelves since the mid 1970s when I had a phase of reading them. I’ve often wondered about them and finally decided to renew my acquaintance with them, which was a most perplexing experience: if I’d bought them all and read them all, some a couple of times, why had they lain there so long undisturbed? I read some bizarre stuff back then in my full-on hippy days, a phase of my life that I’ve never rejected or dismissed, but which I have certainly moved on from long since…

There is something dream-like, druggy, in Brautigan’s writing, and in his completely off-the-wall imagination too, which temporarily attracts and delights, but never lasts long, never attaches; it’s eminently readable – when there’s enough plot to carry you along – and equally eminently forgettable. The characters and settings are fantastical; I’ve wondered about magic realism, but I don’t think any of the texts are substantial enough to be classed in that genre. Many of his characters are misfits, failures in different ways

Willard and his Bowling Trophies is a weird yarn, with several mostly disconnected plots and inoffensive but largely uninteresting characters. The Hawkline Monster (A Gothic Western) was better in that the plot gripped me, and I enjoyed the characters and the poetical language too. I had great expectations of Dreaming of Babylon which was billed as a private eye novel and ought to have been reminiscent of Chandler or Hammett, but was in the end basically plain silly, apart from the caricature hard cop character. I re-read Trout Fishing in America, and A Confederate General from Big Sur too, but a couple of days later I couldn’t tell you a thing about either of them. The one exception, really, was The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, which gripped me rather more. The premise of a mysterious library which accepts and archives any book anyone has written and cares to deposit was interesting enough, and the rather sad, misfit character who finds himself in charge had some substance; hooked up with a new partner unexpectedly, and in the pre-Roe vs Wade days needing to head to Mexico for the inevitable termination brought in a more serious strand which Brautigan developed with some sensitivity as well as beauty…

     Brautigan can do decent poetical language in prose, with the occasional delightfully striking simile or metaphor, and witty turn of phrase, but this isn’t enough to sustain entire books. I kept reading hoping for something more substantial, and most of the time was disappointed by the sameness of it all.

Is this really how we thought, and what we enjoyed way back then? Obviously there was a lesson for me about how our tastes change over time, whilst our memories of something are tinged by those nostalgic spectacles. Brautigan briefly took me back to the 1970s and I could reminisce about the joy of visions, images, the surreal in the everyday; he writes about the joy of carefree sex, although very much in a seventies masculine way… there are things in his writing that I didn’t expect to see in print in those days. Mostly druggy, hallucinatory eye-candy, though, and ultimately eminently forgettable. I wonder if anyone reads his books nowadays?

One Response to “Hippy days are here again…”


  1. […] spent quite a while revisiting Richard Brautigan’s novels, which have been in my library since my hippy days. They are light-hearted froth in a […]

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