Hubert Selby Jr.
"Harry White is a man haunted by a satyr's lust and an obsessive need for sin and retribution. The more Harry succeeds - a good marriage, a good corporate job - the more desperate he becomes, as a life of petty crime leads to fraud and murder and, eventually, to apocalyptic violence."
Before I get into this review, I should mention that I won this book in a giveaway from the BookFox over on youtube. So head on over there and check out some of her videos. I should probably also mention that she was giving this book away because…well because she didn’t really like it, so going in, I didn’t have the highest expectations.
I was surprised therefore, when I found myself adoring this book, racing through the first half in one sitting. I was hooked, sucked into the madness, spiraling ever downwards with Harry White, the book’s protagonist.
And then…I stopped loving it. Then, it got difficult.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The book centres around Harry White, a man in a good job, with good prospects, women falling at his feet. He seems to have it all. As the book progresses Harry continues to climb in the world, he gets a promotion, a beautiful wife, a mansion house, beautiful kids, he’s living the dream.
But with that success comes a need to destroy. A need to eliminate all he has accomplished. This starts with a series of affairs, but gradually spirals out of control as Harry slips ever further into self destruction and madness.
And for a while, I was right there with him. I found Harry deeply unlikeable but fascinating, I wanted to know more, see how much he would deteriorate as the book went on.
This is partly down to the writing style. Selby uses a stream of consciousness style of narrative. Topics jump from one place to another, paragraph breaks and traditional punctuation are thrown out the window. I found this style a little difficult to get into at first, it was my first experience with this kind of writing and I had to teach myself a little how to read it. Once I got the knack however, it turned out to be the perfect method of telling this story. The writing is frantic, topics blend together, characters begin to speak and, without traditional punctuation, it feels as if the dialogue is cutting into Harry’s internal thoughts. It’s messy, it’s jumbled it reads like the thought processes of someone in the middle of a mental breakdown, which of course it is.
And then…it all happens again…and again…and again. Harry picks up some married woman, sleeps with her, abandons her, shows up late for work, gets in trouble with his boss, vows to turn his life around, picks up some married woman, sleeps with her…repeat, repeat, repeat.
And all of a sudden, this frantic, engaging prose, loses all of its power. It becomes repetitive to the point of tedium and even though Harry Continues to spiral downward, his obsession growing constantly darker and more twisted, it fails to hold your interest.
It does regain some momentum toward the end, and I did finish the book feeling more positive than not, but the frustrating repetition leaves this relatively short book feeling much longer and much heavier than it really should.
If you’re a fan of writers in the style of Bret Easton Ellis and have never tried out any Hubert Selby Jr, this is worth giving a look. There are flashes of greatness here, even if the repetition can get boring. Even if the repetition can get boring. Even if the repetition can get boring. Even if the repetition can get boring. Even if the repetition can get boring. Even if the repetition can get boring. Even if the repetition can get boring....