Book #60: Junky (1953)

9781470366377author: William S. Burroughs
language: English and some Spanish
length: 428 minutes (7 hours 8 minutes)
finished listening on: 27 May 2014

The last audiobook I listened to ended with a lengthy Author’s Note that was too boring to finish. This one really took the biscuit with 2 out of seven hours being introductions and appendices. Because it was a relatively short space of time in total, I decided to ride it out, but I felt like it was rather unnecessary, delving into the history of different versions of the book before I’d even started.

Junky is William S. Burroughs’ first novel and by all accounts the most accessibly-written of all of them. It was intended as a memoir, I think, about taking drugs, especially opiates. Originally it was sold as a pulp novel, but promoted by Burroughs’ beatnik friends such as Allen Ginsburg.

Accessibly-written, however, may turn out to be damning with faint praise – while being able to get a candid look into the world of junkies and drug addiction is certainly fascinating, its prose is very dry at times, and reads almost like a narrator of a documentary than someone telling a story. Accordingly, I can remember few significant details of the plot, other than that Burroughs’ ambiguously autobiographical character moves across America and eventually to Mexico, and is constantly at loggerheads with the police. Plus he goes into detail about some of the injustices in the various states’ legal systems, like Louisiana, where something as unquantifiable as being a drug addict in itself was made illegal.

And yet part of the meaning of “accessible” there was that it’s the one novel by Burroughs that follows a story and has a coherent plot – his others tend to follow non-linear narratives or lack one altogether, or they use his trademark cut and paste method to jumble everything up.

I preferred the last audiobook by Burroughs that I listened to, The Wild Boys. It made no sense a lot of the time, but the style was intoxicating and erotic. This felt more repetitive. I think it was worth it altogether though.


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