So, you might not know this but as well as being a fully licensed gun-slinging nerdlinger, I’m also an ex Lit student for my sins. And since finishing Uni, I kinda got into the habit of writing reviews/my thoughts on the books that I read, just as a way of clearing my head of the characters before moving onto the next (is that weird? That’s probably weird, right?!)
Anyways with that in mind, I’ve decided to start Book Review Corner to share some of those entries with you guys in case they inspire you to read (or avoid) some of the novels I’ve shared headspace with over the years.
It seems fitting then to begin with the first book I read directly after graduating and that would be the undiluted crazyscape of William Burrough’s Naked Lunch.
(Takes a deep breath…)
Now listen, if you haven’t read any Burrough’s before there’s really no way to put into words his paranoia-soaked, visually arresting style other than to say it’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Celebrated as a satirist, post modernist and Beat Generation Author he was a unique writer if nothing else and his wild life (including a long standing addiction to heroin) undoubtedly bleeds into every page of this book infecting it with a kind of manic energy you don’t usually get to experience.
In fact, Naked Lunch– his first non linear novel (and one made up of loosely related vignettes rather than chronological events) could well be described as a chaotic narrative, more akin to a mass of sensations, thoughts and physical reactions than a traditional story. Which means that if experimental literature ain’t your thing then you might want to give this one a miss. However if you’re up for the adventure then with this book you’ll find as close a description of a collapsing mind as you might ever want to see. And if you’ve ever wondered even briefly what it would feel like to witness someone about to free-fall from the edges of society then this novel will answer those questions for you (just bear in mind you might not like what you hear.)
Isn’t it hedonistic though? Yes, unquestionably. Self involved? For sure. But in amongst the jungle of riotous excess and pleasure seeking there are also flashes of great insight into the human condition and our desperate need for distraction. And for all its shock value, for all that visceral language (salty really doesn’t cover it) and the overwhelming sense of isolation that the characters experience it’s compassionate and progressive too. You only have to see how the author makes the characters sexes indistinguishable to realise that. Whether male or female, sexually promiscuous or not it makes no odds to him- all that matters is the darkness of the emotions they share- lust, need. Desire. Hell even cannibalism (I said it was out there, right?)
Of course, it should be noted that offering up such a stripped down carnal view of humanity can make the reader feel kind of desolate in reply. You wouldn’t be the first to respond in that way- I did myself at the tender age of (well I won’t put a number on it since I’m a lady.) But the fact that the book can prompt any response at all, emotional or physical without discernible plot or character development just shows how powerful it is. And sometimes I think that kind of primitive untempered power is something we need to counteract the bland, formulaic literature we all find ourselves drowning in.
So if there’s an explorer in you and an ability to not easily be offended then please take a moment to give Naked Lunch a try. You might cheer at the end. You might hate it. You might throw up.
But you won’t be bored. That’s for sure.
CONCLUSION: Nihilistic but intriguing to the last page.
MARKS: 8 out of 10.