Point? What Point?

As a description of nothing happening that stretches over one hundred and seventeen pages, Don DeLillo’s Point Omega is hard to fault.

The book opens and closes in an art gallery, in which the film Psycho is being screened so slowly that its running time is now a full twenty-four hours.  At first I thought this was a spectacularly bonkers bit of inventiveness on DeLillo’s part, but then I read in the acknowledgements that this art instillation really exists.  And with that, the only bit of freshness in the novel evaporated.

Richard Elster is an aged academic whose career peaked when he was invited to participate in high-level war planning.  We get (but slowly, oh so torturously slowly) the impression that Elster’s ideas weren’t taken seriously however, and since then age and disappointment have taken their toll.  Now he retreats to a small house somewhere in the desert, pursued by Jim Finley, who wants to make a film about him.

Finley pitches the film idea, Elster won’t commit to it.  They drink (Elster: whisky, Finley: vodka and orange juice).

Time passes.

Finley pitches the film idea, Elster won’t commit to it.  They drink (Elster: whisky, Finley: vodka and orange juice).

Time passes.

Then, to spice things up a bit – change the pace, really get things moving, Finley pitches the film idea, Elster won’t commit to it.  They drink (Elster: whisky, Finley: vodka and orange juice).

Then Elster’s daughter Jessie comes to stay.  Finley wants to sleep with her.  Finley talks to Jessie.  Finley pitches…

But enough.

Point Omega (what the hell is with that title, by the way?  It sounds like it should be on the front cover of a dodgy thriller) does a reasonable job with the major themes of ageing, failed marriages, and failed fatherhood, but we learn virtually nothing about the characters.

Elster is obsessed with his ideas about war and conflict but he can’t – or won’t – articulate them.  Finley is obsessed with making films, but never talks about the process of making them or why he likes to so much.  Jessie is just completely out to lunch all the time.

Then Jessie disappears.

Why?  How?  With whom?  Oh, you don’t think DeLillo is going to fall for that old chestnut about informing readers, do you?  Tchah!  Never.

It’s hard to feel for cut-out characters, and cut-out characters with empty thought bubbles above them are harder to empathise with yet.  DeLillo writes well, but this time he really had nothing much to write about.

You can knock off Point Omega in less than a couple of hours, so it doesn’t feel like time wasted, per se.  But it doesn’t feel like time spent well either.

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