Book #79: Naked Lunch
I need a vacation.
Naked Lunch is, without a doubt, the most tortured reading experience I’ve ever had. After about 110 pages, I finally just started skimming the novel for the final 100 pages or so.
That sounds like hyperbole. But, no, it’s truly a brutal novel to read. I could barely stomach it.
I’ve already shared a passage from Naked Lunch with you—you know, the one I called the most vile passage I’ve ever read. I won’t re-post it here, in an effort to make sure my blog doesn’t show up on some kind of watch list.
William Burroughs openly admits to not remembering having written Naked Lunch. He wrote it over the course of several years, while binging on heroin. I’ve never taken heroin (true story), so I can’t attest to how one might write while on heroin, but I would imagine Naked Lunch represents the heroin-addicted mind quite well.
Story? Nope. Plot? Nope. Themes? Not much. Characters? Not really.
In Naked Lunch, Burroughs pretty much explains how the novel was written through one of his characters:
“There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer…”
Interestingly enough, the only thing the novel might be good at would be entertaining–in that Howard Stern-ish, shock jock kind of way. You get somewhat funny, extremely strange, absolutely insane stuff like this passage about a “talking asshole.”
As much as I love satire, and as much as I’m okay with being stretched as a reader, I just couldn’t reach that point with this novel. I didn’t get the satire. The linked passage above about the “talking asshole” being the exception, I didn’t think it was funny. But that passage is only funny because it’s so freaking out there.
It’s one thing to write a controversial novel on a controversial subject ( e.g. Lolita). But, usually, you can at least point to some redeeming quality in the novel. For example, as much as I disliked Lolita, I’ve never disputed Nabokov’s talent as a writer. It’s a beautifully written, well thought out novel.
Naked Lunch, though? Not only is it 220 pages of graphic heroin use and pedophilia, it’s poorly written. It’s just bad all around.
Seriously, I can’t find one redeeming quality about this novel.
But don’t take it from me, read what “Slotcar Tycoon” had to say in his Amazon review:
It was like 196 pages of Jim Morrison poetry. There’s no discernable plot. Burroughs apparently wrote down every sick, obscene, filthy thought that ran through his drug addled mind. Some parts seem like they were nothing more than random phrases thrown together.
I’m certainly no prude; I inhaled, and I have nothing against books that use profanity or describe sexual situations, but Burroughs uses obscenity just for the sake of shock. I had to resign myself to reading 10 pages a day just to get through it. The only reason I didn’t give up altogether was because I believe in finishing any book that I begin.
Maybe you need hard drugs to enjoy this book. Perhaps Naked Lunch could be used in the anti-drug campaign as an example of how the mind disintegrates with prolonged drug usage, although I wouldn’t recommend anyone under the age of 16 read this.
All of that.
Thank you, Slotcar Tycoon, for putting my exact thoughts into words.
I know a few of you have read the novel and liked it. I’ve read your comments in some of my posts. I respect your opinions, and I’m actually happy to know there are people out there who enjoy Naked Lunch. But this novel just isn’t for me.
The Opening Line: “I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station.”
The Meaning: Don’t do hard drugs or you’ll write novels like this.
Highlights: When I closed the last page.
Lowlights: All of it…but if you want me to be really specific, I’ll have to go with the repeated pedophilia passages, like this one.
Memorable Line: “Last night I woke up with someone squeezing my hand. It was my other hand.”
Final Thoughts: Stay away. For the love of God, stay away from this novel. If you’re morbidly curious about Naked Lunch, then proceed with caution. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. This novel is a train wreck, but it’s not even the kind of train wreck you want to stare it.