98. The Naked Lunch, William Burroughs (1959)

Burroughs is one of those writers, like Genet, that I was obsessed with as a young man but now I don’t think they’re really that great. I read him because Bowie kept going on about him, and I knew that he was gay, so I laboured through all his novels looking for the ‘good bits’, which are usually pretty ridiculous. But porn was hard to come by in Surrey in the mid 70s, and at least you could keep Burroughs on your bookshelf without arousing too much suspicion. The Naked Lunch is, I suppose, the most characteristic of Burroughs’s works – all the others were regurgitations of the same basic material. You know the score: drugs, boys, cut-up technique, Cold War paranoia, a bit of sci-fi, more drugs, more boys, a lot of gibberish. The weirdness and artiness appealed to me greatly in my youth (I used to write his character names like ‘The Lemon Kid’ on my school desk), there are some really great passages in The Naked Lunch which I still find exciting and powerful, and it reminds me of a time in my life when I was finding out who I was through the medium of books. But I think if the allure of Burroughs hasn’t worn off by the time you’re 35 you’re stuck in a permanent adolescence.


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Filed under My top 100 novels

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