Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan (1976)

The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Gothic Western

'This sure is a weird place,' Greer said.
'It ain't any weirder that Hawaii,' Cameron said.
As it turned out, Cameron was wrong.

Blurb: It is the beginning of the 20th century. A huge yellow house stands in a field of frost in the Dead Hills of East Oregon. In the basement of the house are The Chemicals.

The Chemicals were Professor Hawkline's lfework - but the Professor has disappeared and his lifework must be completed by his two beautiful daughters...Who lay in bedrooms upstairs with two professional killers, Greer and Cameron. While their beloved giant butler lies dead and ignored on the front hall floor. Meanwhile, in the ice caves below the house, the Hawkline Monster laughs and roars.

Thoughts: I must admit that I have been reading outside my comfort zone with this one. I know nothing of the gothic style of literature and as far as I know I haven't read any previously. My knowledge of the western genre consists of a few interesting movies (my favourite being perhaps McCabe & Mrs Miller) and the general idea of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood that has become synonymous with the genre. So my expectation going in to this was practically zero. The words "gothic western" just appealed to me and the premise of this one equally so. This being my first Brautigan also added to the newness of the experience for me.

Greer and Cameron are instantly likable heroes, interest and sympathy for them created from the very first page with their wise cracking and obvious humanity. The journey to face the Hawkline Monster is interesting and well told in short bursts of anecdotal description that is in turns funny and obtuse. The majority of the chapters are a single page in length with the chapter headings often providing more of the plot movement than the contents, this is a new literary trick for me and I really grew to appreciate it when combined with Brautigans almost picaresque style of storytelling.

It's just a little too bizarre for me to really love it. I couldn't really work out if the "monster" was real, if the entire story was just a metaphor for religion or some such other major literary topic and maybe that is the point of gothic literature? Something tells me it might be but I'm ready and willing to listen to others explanations on the subject (hint hint.)

Although having said that I got the sudden urge to watch The X Files whilst reading this, the behaviour and description of the monster felt like the kind of case Mulder would have dragged Scully to investigate in the late 90s. Does anybody remember the episode How The Ghosts Stole Christmas from season 6? Am I on the right track now?

As my friend from Manchester said of this book, a good, unusual and interesting novel but not great.

Once upon a time Hal Ashby had lined up Jack Nicholson and Jeff Bridges for a film adaptation but it sadly never happened, then Tim Burton also had Jack Nicholson involved in an adaptation but this time with Clint Eastwood, happily this one never got off the ground.

Further viewing suggestions:
McCabe & Mrs Miller
Ride With The Devil

Additional reading:
Blood Meridian
Welcome To Hard Times
The Sisters Brothers

View all my book reviews


  1. This sounds like a loose combination of Cowboys & Aliens and John Carter, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Sorry, but about the only gothic literature I've read is Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, so I couldn't really enlighten you on the subject.

    Ride with the Devil! Another western I have to see.

    1. I just tried reading Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination but couldn't get past how wordy he is, using 100 words where 1 would do, so I put it down and might come back to it at another point.

      Great thing about Ride With The Devil is that it was based on a book by Daniel Woodrell, the guy who wrote Winter's Bone. Bad thing is that it seems to be mostly unavailable on DVD these days unless you can find a Criterion or a secondhand one. It was massively unloved.