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Red Pill ()

To be honest, I was a little worried about my reading of this novel until I saw some other reviews and remain uncertain that the story we find is the one intended by the author. As the title, with its reference to the Matrix, suggests the form of the novel supposes that its "hero" has his eyes opened to the reality that underlies our lives. This is a common meme on the Right. Thus, followers of the bat-scat crazy Q-Anon conspiracies believe that they are initiates into a gnostic knowledge that the rest of us are blind to. In fact, it is those of us who reject the pill who perceive the real world and the border-line psychosis of the cultists. So it is quite problematic that Mr. Kunzru's extraordinarily unreliable narrator is presented as someone who has discovered the truth about Trumpism and is fit to warn us.

Said character is a caricature of the sort of male who is susceptible to conspiracy theories. He is an atomized loser. A free-lance intellectual whose wife is the breadwinner, he leaves home for a residency in Germany where he plans to write about the lyric poets and their "construction of the self" in what he imagines will be complete solitude. Bad enough to choose those notoriously emotional writers, who imagine one should form oneself rather than be formed by the institutions of our civilization, he focuses on the suicidal Heinrich von Kleist, who even the narrator acknowledges was hysterical. Oh, and top it all off with the location in Germany, Wannsee, location of the Nazi conference that formalized the Final Solution. We're up around strike 12 here.

Accelerating his psychic break, it turns out that part of the "Deuter Center"'s remit is that its residents work in a common room and dine together and are observed while doing so. He finds this requirement unbearable and retires to his room where he binge-watches a brutal cop show called Blue Lives, in the dialogue of which he recognizes blocks of text from the arch-conservative Joseph de Maistre. Communications with his wife growing erratic, fascination with Kleist growing, paranoia about the Center accelerating and obsession with the tv program taking over his waking hours, he finally accepts an offer to get out of the Center for a visit to the city, but there meets Anton, the Blue Lives show-runner, and "recognizes" the nefarious plot behind the program, which is prepping the ground for some kind of fascist take over or whatever.

In the narrator's telling, Anton starts messing with him and eventually "lures" him to a coastal British retreat, worthy of Moriarity, where authorities find him wandering the cliffs and finally return him to his worried but now terrified family. The book ends with a flourish on Election night 2016, at a party with his Hillary-volunteering wife and friends where he is the only one not devastated by the realization that the Antons have won.

Setting aside the bizarre notion of Trumpism as super-literary, intellectual and competent, the biggest problem here is that our guide has been exactly the sort who is most susceptible to falling for these conspiracies, as, indeed, he has over the course of the novel. It is not that he truly sees a reality that the rest of us are blind to. He has become a participant in what astute observers refer to as the video game nature of these alternate realities. While he may not subscribe to all Anton's Q-Anon politics that are hinted at but never described, he has bought fully into the on-line Easter egg hunting sport of believing that such conspiracies are real and control our lives. He is one of the least likable "protagonists" you'll ever encounter and left me kind of rooting for Anton to keep trolling him.

Capping off the flaws of the novel, there's a complete non sequitur middle section where a maid at the Center describes her tragic life in East Germany where she went from playing in a punk band to reluctantly becoming a Stasi informant. There are elements therein of the great film "The Lives of Others" and the way a totalitarian state can corrupt even decent people. This is a really interesting story. The rest of the novel, where a not terribly decent guy is corrupted within a democratic state does not reach the same heights. If anything, this main story ought to treat "red pill" thinking with derision rather than taking it so deadly seriously. It all adds up to a well-intended misfire.


Grade: (C)


See also:

General Literature
Hari Kunzru Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Hari Kunzru
    -EXCERPT: from Red Pill by Hari Kunzru
    -BIO: Hari Kunzru (British Council)
    -BOOK SITE: Red Pill (Penguin Random House)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVES: Hari Kunzru (Wired)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVES: Hari Kunzru (NY Review of Books)
    -PODCAST: Hari Kunzru on Sartre, Red Pill, and His New Instagram Account: In Conversation with Paul Holdengräber on The Quarantine Tapes (The Quarantine Tapes, October 26, 2021)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: Maggie Nelson & Hari Kunzru discuss Nelson's "On Freedom" (Hammer Museum, Sep 10, 2021)
    -ESSAY: Objectivity (Hari Kunzru, June 2022, Harpers)
    -ESSAY: Hard Wired: How evolutionary psychology ended up at the heart of the culture wars (Hari Kunzru, Yale Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: For the Lulz: 4chan, Gamergate, and how thwarted, angry young men have reshaped political discourse: review of It Came from Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump Into Office by Dale Beran (Hari Kunzru, March 26, 2020, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Hari Kunzru: ‘Espresso is all that stands between us and creative defeat’ (Hari Kunzru, 13 May 2017, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: 'The blues still stands for authenticity': my Mississippi road trip (Hari Kunzru, 24 Mar 2017, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The Wages of Whiteness: Whiteness is a concept that can be made to serve many interests and positions, not all of them compatible. (Hari Kunzru, September 24, 2020, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Why I quoted from The Satanic Verses (Hari Kunzru, 22 Jan 2012, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: Hisham Matar: Libya’s Reluctant Spokesman: On the occasion of his second novel, Libyan author Hisham Matar discusses the effect of totalitarianism on personal lives, what makes the novel a great art form, and the Arab Spring. (Hari Kunzru, 10/15/11, Guernica)
    -ESSAY: Reading The Satanic Verses in Jaipur: Why the novelist read from Salman Rushdie’s banned book The Satanic Verses to mark his protest against the cancellation of Rushdie’s visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival (Hari Kunzru, 1/22/12, Guernica)
    -ESSAY: Architecture of Persecution: The 4000-year-old city of Jerusalem's rich archeological history is weaponized against Palestinians (Hari Kunzru, 5/22/17, Guernica)
    -INTERVIEW: Ursula Le Guin: ‘Wizardry is artistry’ (Hari Kunzru, 11/20/14, The Guardian)
    -PODCAST: Groups and Capturing the Slow Slide into Horror: In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl (Otherppl with Brad Listi, March 31, 2021, Lit Hub)
    -PODCAST: Hari Kunzru on writing Red Pill (Pamela Paul, 10/02/20, NY Times Book Review Podcast)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Author Hari Kunzru on his latest book, 'Red Pill' (Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, October 9, 2020, NPR)
    -INTERVIEW: Hari Kunzru Explains How Cop Shows Contribute to State Brutality (PREETY SIDHU, 9/25/20, Electric Lit)
    -INTERVIEW: Hari Kunzru: 'Privacy is under attack in a whole host of ways' (Alex Preston, 8/22/20, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: An alt-right mind-bender for the QAnon era: How novelist Hari Kunzru went down the rabbit hole (Carolyn Kellogg, 8/26/20, LA Times)
    -INTERVIEW: That Quivering Point of Saturation (Robert Birnbaum interviews Hari Kunzru, JUNE 15, 2012, LA Review of Books)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Taking the Red Pill with Hari Kunzru (James Butler, Novara Media)
    -INTERVIEW: An interview with Hari Kunzru: Hari Kunzru discusses his first novel, The Impressionist, a black comedy about race and identity, that partially developed from his own experience as a child of an Indian father and English mother. (BookBrowse)
    -INTERVIEW: Novelist Hari Kunzru Tumbles Down the Rabbit Hole of Extremism: Kunzru discusses his upcoming novel, ‘Red Pill,’ which upends questions of race, identity politics and the power of the alt-right (Connor Goodwin, 8/21/20, WSJ)
    -PROFILE: Staring Into the Void with Hari Kunzru (Rollo Romig, 3/13/12, The New Yorker)
    -INTERVIEW: Hari Kunzru on Privacy, Surveillance, and Paranoia (Deborah Treisman, 6/29/20, The New Yorker)
    -INTERVIEW: Hari Kunzru & Ted Hodgkinson: ‘It was interesting to me how readily UFOs can be mapped onto a spiritualism, Madame Blavatsky and so on.’ (Ted Hodgkinson, 10th March 2012, Granta)
    -ARCHIVES: Hari Kunzru (Guernica)
    -ARCHIVES: kunzru (the New Yorker)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Hari Kunzru (Kirkus)
    -ARCHIVES: kunzru (LA Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: Hari Kunzru The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill by Hari Kunzru: Seeing Too Clearly: In his new novel, Hari Kunzru reclaims red-pilling from the right. How can we wake up from a false sense of security into a more conscious understanding of the world? (Jenny Offill, November 19, 2020, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Edward Docx, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Adam Fleming Petty, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Michael Gorra, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Kevin Lozano, The Nation)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Randy Rosenthal, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Rumaan Alam, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Ryne Clos, Spectrum Culture))
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Jonathan Derbyshire, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (James Miller, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Randall Colburn, AV Club)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Venky Vembu, The Hindu)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (The Saturday Paper)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Sarah Mills, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Jenny Offil. NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (James Walton, Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Michael Pittard, Chicago Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Christian Lorenzen, Bookforum)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Beejay Silcox, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (library Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Ian Mond, Locus)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (To the Ends of the World)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Percy Bharucha, The Hindu)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Readings)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Our Daily Read)
    -REVIEW: of Red Pill (Rachael Nevins, Ploughshares)
    -REVIEW: of “White Tears” & “Red Pill” by Hari Kunzru (RUFUS F., Ordinary Times)
    -REVIEW: of White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Sukhdev Sandhu, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of White Tears (Anthony Cummins, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of White Tears (David Hering, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of White Tears (Leah Mirakhor, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Twice Upon a Time (LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of

Book-related and General Links:

-ESSAY: A Game Designer's Analysis Of QAnon (Rabbit Rabbit, Sep 30, 2020, Medium)
    -ESSAY: An AI Tool Can Tell a Conspiracy Theory from a True Conspiracy (TIMOTHY R. TANGHERLINI, NOVEMBER 24, 2020, Defense One)
    -ESSAY: How QAnon works like a video game to hook people (Kyle Daly, Axios)
    -ESSAY: Is QAnon the Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory of the 21st Century?: “It’s a collaborative fiction built on wild speculation that hardens into reality.” (Charlie Warzel, Aug. 4, 2020, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Online Radicalization We’re Not Talking About (Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis, 5/19/17, New York)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Habanero-Hot (Morten Høi Jensen, 04 Dec 2020, American Purpose)
    -ESSAY: The Radical Loser: One of Germany's most influential post-war writers looks at what factors combine to create terrorists -- an isolated individual is taken in by a collective group, an turned into a new kind of loser. (Von Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 20.12.2006, Der Spiegel)
-ESSAY: A World of Intensities (On Kleist) (DAVID WELLBERY, DECEMBER 2, 2020, NonSite)
    -REVIEW: of Heinrich von Kleist, transl. Matthew Spencer | Anecdotes (Robert Rubsam, Cleveland Review of books)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Inventing the authority of a modern self: A review of Montaigne: Life without Law, by Pierre Manent (Daniel J. Mahoney, December 2020, New Criterion)
    -PROFILE: How Author Talia Lavin Infiltrated The Far Right (David Neiwert, 11/30/20, National Memo)
    -ESSAY: Yarvin’s Case Against Democracy: Curtis Yarvin is too elitist for fascism. (Matt McManus, January 27, 2023, Commonweal)