Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Hystopia” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


2.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,357 ratings  ·  215 reviews
By the early 1970s, President John F. Kennedy has survived several assassination attempts and—martyred, heroic—is now in his third term. Twenty-two-year-old Eugene Allen returns home from his tour of duty in Vietnam and begins to write a war novel—a book echoing Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five—about veterans who have their battlefield experiences "enfolded," wiped from th ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 19th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 2.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,357 ratings  ·  215 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Hystopia
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
Back to the Womb

The effect of this novel isn't one of a narrative opened and closed. It is more one of the creation and sustaining of a single feeling of cold vulnerability to everything in the world - from its people to the natural environment. The reader as well as the characters search constantly for some reassuring meaning. The pervasive drug-induced haze distorts everything, however, inducing the perception one has in the midst of a severe hangover of being one or two nano-seconds behind re
Jul 27, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Fuck plot and fuck story and fuck the way one thing fits to another and fuck cause and effect, because there wasn't none and if there was we didn't see much of it." p. 159

Kind of Means to provide his own review within the pages of his novel. I am not so much shocked at this being nominated for a Booker as I am flabbergasted that the damn thing ever got published in the first place! I mean, just WHO is the intended audience for this? Drug-addled illiterate crazy killer Nam-era vets, which compri
Nancy Oakes
Aug 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
Whew. Not an easy read at all.

There is this wonderful scene on page 154 of this novel, which is actually a book within a book, where one of the characters has a vision where she hears a dead boyfriend saying the following:

" I wonder who's going to tell the story, Meg? Nothing else to say. You see, you had to be here and you weren't. You know the one that goes: How many Vietnam vets does it take to screw in a lightbulb? How many? You fucking don't know because you weren't there, man."

And therein
Jessica Sullivan
Hystopia is one of those books that’s hard for me to rate, because I appreciate it more than I actually enjoyed reading it. It’s a complex, mindfuck of a novel that pays homage to some of the most memorable works of postmodernist fiction from the late 20th century.

Here’s where I try to tell you what it’s about. Okay, so it’s the late 1960s, the Vietnam War is raging on, and Kennedy is about to enter his third term in office. In this revisionist history, the U.S. government has created a federal
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Initially a promising premise, the book simply meanders and too many of the parts of the book, the reader is effectively left to work out what is happening (and more damningly does not really care).

Overall, a renowned short story writer has aimed unsuccessfully for his first novel with what could have made an excellent novella.
Aug 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Hystopia was not likely to be my cup of tea. I am not an avid devourer of Vietnam novels (although the Vietnam War just provides the pretext of this novel - it could be about the aftermath of any endless war, anywhere). I was a bit put off by the emphasis on drug use described in some reviews - I find reading about other people's altered states very boring. (But here too, while the characters are usually drugged by themselves or others, there's not much - some, but not much - dwelling on psychot ...more
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a strange, dreamy book, remniscent of 1984 and Philip K Dick. Hystopia is the book that Eugene Allen writes after returning from Vietnam, and it's bookended by author's notes, editor's notes, quotes from his family and friends. This is the kind of shit I go for: stories buried in stories, a self-conscious gimmick that throws the whole authorial agreement into question. This is fiction, of course: nothing is real. But the traditional agreement between authors and readers is that, for the ...more
Oct 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 21st-century
This book lasted as long as the Vietnam War itself and is equally as messy, convoluted and incomprehensible. A waste of my good time.
Jul 27, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 2016-booker
Have you seen the movie "Mike Bassett: England Manager" where two footballers, Benson and Hedges, are plucked from minor league obscurity to play for the England national football team because the manager writes the team selection on a packet of cigarettes? I am beginning to wonder if something similar has happened with this year's Man Booker Long List.

This book might not be quite as bad a 1* suggests, but I wanted to make sure it was clear that it is my least favourite of the 8 I have so far re
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is without a doubt one of the best books I've read this year. It's got a format (text-within-a-text) that is mind-boggling complex, but pulls it off effortlessly. I finished it and immediately wanted to reread it.

It somehow encapsulates the violence and trauma of the Vietnam War perfectly. The entire concept of 'enfolding' was fascinating and beautiful, a make-believe way of erasing the tramautic events that the in-text author went through. It felt real, viscerally and brutally real.

cardulelia carduelis
Aug 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: discarded
Wow there was nothing for me in this book and I’m struggling to understand why/how it made the Man Booker longlist.
Let’s be real here, I might not always like a book: perhaps I found the plot dragged or the characters bland, perhaps I think it’s literary to a fault or that the writing could be better but there’s usually some redeeming quality that'll allow me to finish it.

So what went wrong?
Hystopia's opening 20 or so pages should have warned me that this wasn’t going to be an exceptionally well
Nicole D.


And then we came to the end … This is one of those books that can only be fully appreciated by getting to the end. It’s complex! I was so confused in the beginning and distracted by the fact that it starts out with an Editor’s Note which states that certain historical facts have been twisted to fit the fictive universe, and then goes on to say that one of those “facts” is that JFK had 7 attempts on his life, and the “Genuine Assassination” happened in Sept
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 01, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
I would not have picked this book up based on description, and only gave it a go because it was on the Man Booker prize list. I can see 50 pages in that this is not a book I wish to finish. It just isn't my thing. I do like the zany alternate history idea but the violence and meta-story, not so much.

(But it can be your thing.)
Britta Böhler
The Deer Hunter meets Natural Born Killer. Although I didn't enjoy it in the beginning, the book grew on me later on. Still, the novel-in-the-novel felt unnecessary, as did the setting (Kennedy is still alive in the 1970ies, serving his third term).
Sep 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: man-booker-nod, 2016
War reports: The siege of Hue dragged on as the Marines struggled once again to take what was left of the Citadel. Jason Williamson – a.k.a. the stoned reporter – filed nightly radio reports in a drug-dreary voice that was oddly comforting. His modus operandi, which had won him a Pulitzer, was to be on the ground as stoned as possible and to catch a new perspective, to offer up reports steeped in the language of visions. He was on the so-called wire, or outside the wire, or near the wire, fil
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Frustrating. Rooted for this book up until about page 200, but then felt like I was getting punked. It's a big mess. David Means is a highly-lauded short story writer and this is his debut novel. In fairness, the bulk of this book is a novel-within-a-novel written by a character named Eugene Allen, who is a very messed up 22-year-old Vietnam vet, and this Allen character at the very end acknowledges that he knows he's written a mess. So really it's the framing device, what little of it there is, ...more
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hystopia is a rollicking, brilliantly conceived reverie that takes place in an apocalyptic post-war (Vietnam) USA, specifically the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It's really a book within a book, based on the post-suicidal ruminations of the introverted sensitive Eugene Allen. As a proud survivor of the Vietnam era and all that entails (spiritualism, drugs, existential angst, et. al.), I absolutely loved the nostalgic vibe of the book. My only problem is the limited and misogynistic vi ...more
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed-books
Firstly, be clear that this is a book written by a fictional character (both book and fictional author conjured up by the amazing David Means). Eugene Allen is 22, and has just returned from an operational tour in Vietnam in the 1970s.

From the first editor's notes, the horror and honour of Vietnam is emphasised to reveal trauma and violence so brutal, it matches the fictional author's notion of treatment given to veterans.

Be prepared. This book is a fairy tale, a journey, an insane rambling, a
Jul 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars reviews are up on our blog as part of our Man Booker feature. Check out how we all rated it:


This was book number 5 and in what must be a first, I have very much liked/loved all 5 so far. Hystopia had a rocky start for me but I ultimately loved it.
derek allard
May 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book hooked me in the first 20 or so pages and I was excited to read it ... but when it gets into the novel within a novel, which is most of the book, it just falls flat. Perhaps I should have started with one of his short story collections.
i really enjoyed this!! my favourite man booker nominee so far and more than likely a reread at some future point in time.
Jul 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Alternate history meta-fiction is not what I usually go for at all but I really enjoyed this. Means explores therapeutic amnesia (in a completely different way to Ishiguro in The Buried Giant) as he reimagines 1960s America and its involvement in Vietnam. It's a book within a book but still accessible. I won't pretend that I understood this book completely and it being 'in conversation with Homer's Iliad,' as stated on the back cover. I'm not even completely sure what that means. This is David M ...more
Aug 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unreadable
This alt history novel features some great ideas--Kennedy survived the first assassination attempt, the Vietnam war has gone on for years, PTSD is now treated with "enfolding". Enfolding involves drugs, reenactment, and results in everything key to the traumatic memories being hidden within the brain like a nugget.

So it could be really interesting. But this reads like a "guys book" (hey dude!). The writing is meh. The story is all about the guys (Meg is written as something the guys talk about,
Kris Fernandez-Everett
Good idea, terrible execution... Wordy in places for the sake of having words -- which by default makes it repetitive -- and at various times, fails to elevate the mundane or cliched into something meaningful... Most annoyingly, Iggy Pop likely won't see a dime from this book even though his name is taken in vain throughout it. Save yourself a couple of hours -- cue up 'Raw Power' on your stereo, and you'll experience the same themes without the tedium of over-inflated prose. Glad I finished so ...more
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
DNF halfway through

Kasa Cotugno
Got 1/2 way through and could not continue. What's with the Booker nominees? Tim O'Brien set the standards in writing about PTSD, and this one doesn't come close. ...more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book. Different, unexpected, a true mind bender that speaks to issues such as PTSD that are very relevant today.
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-general
David Means’s Hystopia (2016) is a novel of alternative reality, a reimagining of the Viet Nam era. The voices are those of the living and the dead from Viet Nam. A conceit of the book is that it is written by a fictional Viet Nam vet named Eugene Allen whose sister, Meg Allen, is a central character with a psychotic breakdown; Meg’s trauma is her loss of her boyfriend Billie-T in Viet Nam. Allen’s manuscript, discovered by his mother after his death in 1974, is the core of this weird work. Whil ...more
Aug 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hystopia is a little puzzle box of a book.

The bulk of the text is a conspiracy theory story in an alternative history of the United States (clearly grounded in alternative reality by the survival of President Kennedy and his election to a third term in office) where Vietnam veterans are given medication to forget the horrors they have seen. This process – enfolding – does not always work and rogue veterans who resist the drug or start to unfold end up in Michigan, dodging the authorities and re-
Alan Teder
This wasn’t the alternative history that you might expect from a quick read of the blurb. It isn’t an alternate science fiction world where the U.S. is in an un-assassinated Kennedy third term where a Psych Corps uses a drug Tripizoid to “enfold” PTSD damaged veterans to wipe their memories and Pysch Corps teams hunt down un-“enfolded” vets who are rampaging in a lawless State of Michigan. The overall fiction is that there was a vet, Eugene Allen (from presumably the real world Vietnam War), who ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Mookse and th...: 2016 Longlist: Hystopia 16 66 Oct 06, 2016 12:19AM  
ManBookering: Hystopia by David Means 27 105 Sep 13, 2016 12:36AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • Common Ground
  • The Luminaries
  • Lemon
  • The Parade
  • The Temple House Vanishing
  • One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival
  • Loop (Ring, #3)
  • Autonomous
  • Violeta
  • Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom
  • Fool on the Hill
  • Twelve
  • The High Sierra: A Love Story
  • An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination
  • The Doctor's Demons
  • A Babbo morto: Una storia di Natale
  • The Bones of Avalon (John Dee Papers #1)
See similar books…
David Means is an American writer based in Nyack, New York. His short stories have appeared in many publications, including Esquire, The New Yorker, and Harper's. They are frequently set in the Midwest or the Rust Belt, or along the Hudson River in New York. ...more

Related Articles

Alternate history is one of the most reliably interesting subgenres in the book game. As a kind of subset of speculative fiction, alternate...
140 likes · 20 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“If there is a God, he thought, I'll speak directly to him when the time comes, and if there isn't a God I'll have to invent one, and I'll find a way to thank him for the way I feel when I watch her move.” 0 likes
More quotes…