I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs.
I really struggled with this one. If I had to sum up what it was about it would go something like this: This book is hallucinogenic gay snuff porn. It's Fear and Trainspotting in Space Station, Port 9.
Alright, that's incredibly simplistic. The author was an addict (recovering?) who also happened to be homosexual. The book was intentionally (I believe?) cut up into quick scenes that location hopped, and were meant (again, I think?) to represent a druggie's way of seeing the world. There are aliens. There are drugs. There is a lot of sexual violence. There is a lot of American government bashing.
If you enjoy Hunter S. Thompson, you would probably like this. It felt quite similar to me. He's considered to be of the Beatnik group, such as Kerouac, and he got a lot of support from that quarter.
Part of my problem was that you really have no concept of who the narrator is. There's no reasoning for the travel, or for the narrator being at these places. Is it omniscient? Possibly?
My ADHD brain just couldn't get into this book. I think it took me two weeks to read.
I assume the "horror" this was supposed to represent was government overreach and drug addiction. But it was so nonsensical, I couldn't get that sense of horror. Then again, maybe the snuff porn was the horror, but it was so ridiculous and implausible there was no way I could get into it enough to care. I certainly couldn't get into the narrator's head. There was no character to identify with or even to care about. I. just. didn't. care. And, yes, I'm clear that it was satire, as well. I enjoy a good satire. I got the points being made. I just didn't enjoy reading it.
Interesting factoid: There were obscenity charges concerning this book, and an attempt to ban it state-wide in Massachusetts. The Supreme Court cleared it, and declared it protected by the 1st Amendment. The beginning of the edition I read has transcripts from folks like Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg, who staunchly defended the book.
Having said all that, there was something fascinating and compelling about the book, which is the thing that allowed me to continue instead of just giving up and deciding a review wasn't worth it. I wanted to understand it better, but I didn't have the time, the energy, or the attention span to do so. I think it would take several readings of this book to understand it better, and I believe each reading would illuminate something new, if not many somethings new. I'm just not willing to put in that time. More intellectual sorts might enjoy this book as a study and commentary. I read for entertainment.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
8. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
9. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
10. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
11. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
12. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
13. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
14. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
15. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
16. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
17. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
18. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
19. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
20. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
21. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
22. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
23. World War Z (Max Brooks)
24. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
25. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
26. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
27. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
28. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
29. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
30. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
31. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)
The next book I read will be Roald Dahl's The Witches. I need a break.
Have you read Naked Lunch or seen the movie? What did you think? Have you read any of his other works, and are they similar? Do you have an example of good satire in novel form?
May you find your Muse.