This was a real case of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ for me. From the style of the artwork and the title, I would never have expected this to be something I’d want to read, but I was already familiar with the author having enjoyed his zany debut novel ‘Join My Cult’ some years ago.
Party at the World’s End is a lot of fun. It is beautifully chaotic, with events told out of order from the points of view of several different characters; sometimes in third person and sometimes first. Sometimes in recollections, in philosophical musings, in diary entries, and sometimes in dreams or hallucinations. Now I’m sure that sounds hard to follow, but it actually works so well with the subject matter and at no point did I find myself confused. After attempting to read Ulysses this was a breeze.
The theme is sex, drugs, rock and roll, with the added twist that all of the main characters are insane by most people’s reckoning; in fact the story opens with two of them escaping from a mental institution. But there is a constant question; are they really insane or are they actually enlightened through their detachment from what is ordinary? Are they just using too many drugs or are they remembering their past reincarnations as mythological beings?
Jesus is a purple haired trans woman with a love for guns and tequila. Lilith is a sex-obsessed beauty who always gets her own way even it means leaving a trail of destruction behind her. Loki is jaded but ‘serious about mischief’. And my favourite, Dionysus, is in a constant battle with his own mind. They are part of a movement (sometimes) called Mother Hive Brain which aims to defeat what they see as the Leviathan; the oppressive undercurrent of organised society. They spread their message through music and myth, immanentizing an apocalypse of sorts.
“The myth of the American dream. The great American novel. Even the word American now evokes a shudder. We all know something our parents didn’t in the 60s: we’ve been had. All the myths we’d been sold, painted atop crushing brutality. Freedom a mask for its opposite. Maybe each generation has to awake to the lies of the previous, I don’t know. Either way, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Now, it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering momentum and power. Even gentle footfalls can start an avalanche, given the proper conditions. Once it gains enough velocity, anything in its path will be crushed. Crushed by the weight of a myth. An idea.” “What are you rambling about?” Loki asked over the intercom, somehow able to make out his spitfire monologue over the rumble of the engine. “Reality isn’t up for grabs. It’s real.”
I found the writing fantastically descriptive in the most inventive ways. In one sense it is unhinged, but in another it is liberated from how a book ‘should’ be written and that is a very admirable thing to me. There are references to occult orders that really exist but are never named or given much explanation, and there is more than a touch of Discordianism. Those familiar with such ‘organisations’ I think will get more out of the plot – and probably the reflective Epilogue – than those who are not, but such knowledge certainly isn’t a prerequisite.
One of the things this book really made me think about is the idea of the true self (as opposed to, say, the ego) alluded to in some religions and psychology models. Is that really such an attractive reality?
‘In one hand, the deal with the devil: you are rewarded for being false, fake. Nothing more than the mask given to you. The world is a Game that merely demands you hold true to nothing but the rules of that Game. Have no fixed self, and you are capable of anything. In the other, the path of the Fallen. You will be persecuted by society. You will be punished, perhaps even killed, for holding fast to what you are. And you can become immortal, sustained by the force of their dreams.’
‘You spend your whole life locked in struggle against yourself, and some asshole blows by with a head full of coke and breaks every bone in your body. Who is to say that he isn’t living more in the moment than you? And who is going to be there in your own private Armageddon to tally up the score?’
I was also prompted to contemplate the nature of reincarnation and what it would mean to break the cycle. (Perhaps my tendency to turn everything into deep interconnected theories is the reason I identified with Dionysus so much!)
I have always hoped that someone would write something so entertaining and mind-bending as Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! and Schrödinger’s Cat trilogies, and this is it. I was also pleased to see a nod to him in the use of the phrase ‘reality is what we can get away with’. I laughed a lot, I marvelled at the writing style, and I took away some new philosophical questions to chew over. I think the only thing stopping me giving this a 10 is that it doesn’t feel as though it will have such a deep and lasting impact as some of the other books I have read lately, but I have no more specific criticism than that. It is a wild and wonderful read.