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What Would Maxim Gorky Do?

Ham on RyeHam on Rye cover

Bukowski, Charles

Canongate, 2001

ISBN: 1 841951 633

I really love Charles Bukowski.  Obviously, I never met him in person, but his writing speaks to me in a way that not many others do.  His poetry especially is very beautiful; fragile and brash, it’s kind of an enigma.  I actually didn’t even know he wrote novels for ages (I know, right?  Good researching there…), but I’m sure glad that I found that little treasure out.  It’s hard to say exactly what I love so much about his writing – I mean, it’s certainly not the kind of thing you could recommend to just anyone, not the kind of thing you’d rock up to your Nana’s book club with (unless your Nana is down with a liberal literary splashing about of the really bad c-word).   I’d kind of see him as being a kind of spiritual antecedent to a writer like Irvine Welsh – someone who just can’t seem to let their past be, who has to keep worrying at it like an old dog.

This particular Cannongate edition has an introduction by Roddy Doyle.  And, okay, full disclosure, I’ve never read one of his books.  Yes, I know, cultural ignoramus, but I’ll rectify that – it’s easily rectifiable.  I hardly ever read introductions, but I read this one, for some strange reason, maybe because it begins with Bukowski’s own words, the dedication from his first novel Post Office, which incidentally is also a Hank Chinaski novel.  In the dedication, Doyle talks about Bukowski’s writing style, and he puts it much better than I do, so I’m just going to quote verbatim:

“What writing, I thought.  It wasn’t just the words that made this a tough, real world.  It was the awkwardness of the writing, its closeness to speech. ‘…and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back.’  So you went where?  And what happened then? And then? … It reminded me of kids telling me about a video, charging through the plot of a ninety-minute film in less than thirty seconds; arms, head and shoulders supplying the action and special effects.  It had the same rush, the same fight for attention.” p. viii

It’s that ‘fight for attention’ that makes Ham on Rye such a compelling read.  The whole thing reads like a fight, but a beautiful fight, not choreographed or tamed in any way, brutal sometimes, funny others.

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