Naked Lunch

Naked Lunch, it’s a strange book. I’m not the first person to say that and I won’t be the last. In fact I’m sure Naked Lunch must be a, if anything, over discussed book… but that didn’t stop me with Gravity’s Rainbow so here goes…

My friend said to me that Naked Lunch has no plot but every line is a beautiful, crystalised (if disturbing) piece of poetry. I don’t think I’d go that far. Bill Burroughs writes very, very well but in a simple readable style (not surprising with him being a Beat ‘n all) whereas the above description made me think of some truly complex stuff.

It’s true there is no plot, just a setting: the setting being the inside of Bill’s head. The contents of the book are endlessly, gratuitously gory and sexual. People are being fucked or abused or killed on every page by a variety of men and creatures. Each part being a little vignette which will start and stop suddenly, shifting perspective (first two third) and sometimes repeating itself most notably the repeated telling of a boy being hanged whilst another character fucks him…

Burroughs famously shot his wife in the head in an accident involving a recreation of William Tell; Tom Waits wrote the Black Rider about it; David Cronenberg based his “adaptation” of Naked Lunch about it. The fact he shot his wife in the head isn’t what surprises me, it’s the fact he was married at all – Burrough’s world is choc-a-bloc with homosexual sex acts/desires and those that wish to punish such a desire in others. It almost feels like every one is gay in naked lunch and if not gay, suspected of being such. There seems to be almost no desire for women, just young men with “tight little assholes”.

The strange thing is this book is not scary and I didn’t really find it repellent. Although it’s pitch black Burroughs seems to have removed all the horror from his prose – just emotionlessly reporting his thoughts, with at the very most a small pang of pleasure.   J. G. Ballard describes the book  as a “booty brought back from a nightmare”, which is true but the nightmare seen from the morning, when all of the horror is gone.

The book seems to be purely from a physical perspective, only the body really matters. Which makes sense as it is truly about heroin and drug addiction. Funny, I could, and some do, write about the book without mentioning its constant drug referencesBut they’re there, almost in every paragraph. In his end notes Burrough’s writes of the “junkie’s metabolism” that every heroin addict has – the obsession with the physical and pleasure in the book would bear out Naked Lunch’s own “junkie metabolism”. And the dispassion? Well William also says, and I paraphrase, “a junkie remembers everything, almost too clearly, but all the emotion is gone.”

Usually I despise books that have no plot, no driving impetus, but I made an exception for Naked Lunch. I’d recommend other people do the same.

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One Comment on “Naked Lunch”

  1. Ian Schultz says:

    Uncle Bill loved Jane very much (and sincerely believed he could settle down with her) but he lived very much a bisexual life until her death and after her death he lived exclusively a homosexual life and also he was married twice but the other was scam for a women to move to the states.

    I would also say Naked Lunch has a plot but a very loose one.


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