Skip to content

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.

It’s brutal.

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.”

(Wikimedia Commons)

William Burroughs (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Other Thoughts

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.

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Best line in this post: When I closed the last page.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 31, 2015
  2. That’s what is so great about books (and art in general) I suppose. Its subjectivity. I’ve never used drugs or done any of the things in the book. Yet, I loved the book. Read it twice in fact. I also like JG Ballard who loved Naked Lunch and Burroughs’ writing in general. So there you go. That’s why art is so important in life. It creates discussion. Hope you enjoy the next book better than Naked Lunch. Sorry you didn’t like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 31, 2015
    • Creates discussion, indeed. Thanks for sharing. Always appreciate another view!


      March 31, 2015
  3. I hate that Burroughs quote so much, haha. Pretension in its most drug-induced form.


    March 31, 2015
  4. Reblogged this on joustingwiththeimagination.


    March 31, 2015
  5. Teresa #

    What appalled me about the book was everything you said. What thrilled me about it was the art. I love the cadence and color of the words as shown in the first lines. I also found the over-the-top workings of counter-culture politics to be spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 31, 2015
  6. J.R.Barker #

    Wow, that’s got to be the most damming review I’ve ever read. Count me out of reading that.


    March 31, 2015
    • Damning…yes…but was it really? The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference, and this was far from an indifferent review. He didn’t call it boring or flat. Part of me wants to see what the fuss is about. Another part wants to see whether I can find the value that some claim to see, where others do not.

      When I was a child, I overheard an aunt denouncing David Niven’s _The_Moon’s_a_Balloon_ as the worst book ever written. Someday I will find that book (on bag day at an AAUW sale, I hope), and I expect I will read it, for no other reason than that review. I can’t imagine wanting to read it otherwise.


      March 31, 2015
      • J.R.Barker #

        I get what you mean. The strength of emotion against this book also intrigued me.
        If someone writes a truly bad review I usually want to read the book to see why, but with this one I read the pedophilia scene. I now consider my curiosity utterly quenched.


        April 1, 2015
  7. Dig the “sheifie”!


    March 31, 2015
  8. Stephen McDaniel #

    No book has a constitutional right to be read, no matter whose list it’s on. All reading is subjective. Your project is interesting, and I hope you’re enjoying it, but subjecting yourself to something that makes you gag is probably going well over the top. If a book is garbage, subjectively or otherwise…well, we have a special container for that, don’t we.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 31, 2015
  9. Sounds like he was naked and out to lunch when he wrote this — lunch being heroin. It’s a curiosity that this book made any list. Shock for shock sake is fairly passé . . . At least I thought so. Reading this book was a public service announcement to us all, so at least there’s that.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 31, 2015
  10. As much as I love lists, this proves once again how made up all of this stuff is. No way is this one of the 100 Greatest Novels.


    March 31, 2015
  11. How the hell did this get on the Time 100 list?


    March 31, 2015
  12. I am SO effing in on this novel! I definitely appreciate the cadences, rhythms, and dirtbag imagery and tone of this novel, as represented by the passages you’ve quoted in your posts. And, as discussed before, I have some ideas regarding the “artistic merit” or otherwise potential redeeming qualities of the novel, so I am certainly interested to see where my own experience lands. I look forward to your next All-Time 100 review!


    March 31, 2015
  13. So much agreement – I tried reading this and by page 20 I still had no freaking idea what the hell was going on, so I gave up. Good to know I made the right decision! 🙂


    April 1, 2015
  14. catchy title


    April 4, 2015
  15. Ardas3 #

    First of all,Naked Lunch is a masterpiece.
    Trippy,bizarre,disguisting and strangely funny.

    Well that sentence is true:
    Story? Nope. Plot? Nope. Themes? Not much. Characters? Not really.

    But do you really think why so many people call it a masterpiece?

    Because it is simply the best book about drug addiction.Confusing,disguisting,torturing but the best.

    Because no book can reach its reality.Reality?Yes.It gives us the clearest picture of a mind of junkie’s.

    Yes,maybe you didn’t like it.It is a hard book to handle.But a rewarding one.
    I’m sorry mister,this book is a perfect book about its hard and disguisting subject.It isn’t art,yes.But I think every book lover must read this masterpiece.Because you can’t find a book like this.

    10 OUT OF 10!!!!!


    May 28, 2015
  16. I like your project and its heartening to see people take books seriously, especially when it seems so few of us do. I have to disagree about the quality of Naked Lunch. I think its reductive, whether you love the book or hate it, to say that its solely about heroin addiction. As I mentioned on the page where you placed the quote you so hated, it is about addiction in all its forms, and the reason he writes such vile things is to illustrate the nature of addiction itself, but not just drug addiction. Mainly he’s writing about ideas of control, language, communication, technology, etc. And the writing style is MEANT to be random, exploratory, stream-of-consciousness, cut-up, distressed, dissonant and atonal. Its like free jazz. Any book whose style does not somehow reflect the ideas in the book has a disconnect inside it. That, to me, is what separates literature from pop-fiction. Each choppy, fucked-up phrase adds to the ‘meaning’ of the text itself, via resonance. Burroughs was no hack. He had an ear for the vernacular, criminal argot, etc. that you can hear right in that opening line about the ‘heat closing in’ and all that. His first book, Junky, is written in a hardboiled style influenced by Dashiell Hammet. He has a story, titled “The Priest They Called Him” in Exterminator!, that almost perfectly captures pure speech itself, with all its run-on sentences and nuanced cadences, that I’d call it a masterpiece. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater here. There are tiresome passages in Naked Lunch and elsewhere in Burroughs’s writing, but there are also many moments of pure genius. Check out: Junky, Exterminator!, Interzone (especially the title story and the piece called “WORD”, and the compilation of short texts called The Burroughs File. I also have to say, in this day and age, to say that Naked Lunch has “no redeeming qualities” and that it qualifies as pornography, is to retry an old case, first of all, and second, borders on the fascist. We don’t need anyone to impose morality on us, thanks.


    December 19, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Next Up: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | 101 Books
  2. Book #80: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | 101 Books
  3. Ranking The First 80 Novels | 101 Books
  4. Top Ten Books That I Will Probably Never Read - Gleaningful
  5. The First 80: A Look Back | 101 Books
  6. The 101 Books 5th Anniversary Giveaway! | 101 Books
  7. Next Up: On The Road | 101 Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: