Author: Charles Bukowski
Date Read: 25th May 2017
“It began as a mistake. By middle age, Henry Chinaski has lost more than twelve years of his life to the U.S. Postal Service. In a world where his three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze, and racetrack betting, he somehow drags his hangover out of bed every dawn to lug waterlogged mailbags up mud-soaked mountains, outsmart vicious guard dogs, and pray to survive the day-to-day trials of sadistic bosses and certifiable coworkers.”
After being recommended this book by a friend, I finally managed to pick it up and start reading it. It’s a considerably short book which meant it was fairly quick and easy to read, for me this was ideal because I didn’t find it particularly captivating or interesting. It seemed to be a novel that observed specific aspects of working class life but through the lens of the protagonist, Henry Chinaski. Therefore this perspective on life appeared to be quite harsh and blunted due to the style of the writing and the actions of Henry Chinaski. The book is heavily dominated by short, dramatic sentences which results in heavy, hard-hitting situations almost being ignored as they aren’t given any attention. Even the narration seemed dismissive of everything that was happening, it’s there to acknowledge what is happening but nothing more. Alongside this the way in which Henry leads his life is very nihilistic however this does seem to compliment the way in which the book has been written.
Throughout the book there are three aspects of life which are predominant for Henry Chinaski, these being drinking, sex and gambling. Combining all three of these aspects will almost definitely create a story line that explores some dark themes, so if you are averse to sexually explicit writing, there are some parts of the book which may be hard to read as it does deal with rape. There are three women who Henry is involved in relationships with throughout the book and they are Betty, Joyce and Vi; each of these relationships seem to act as a burden on Henry and so this sparks the idea that the only reason he engages in these relationships is for the sex. However the only woman who Henry shows as having any kind of emotional attachment to is Betty. Henry’s relationship with Betty is bitter sweet because she is introduced at the beginning of the book and then she kicks him out of the house, however towards the end they are reunited but it is at this point that she dies. In true style of the book, this part is glossed over and another situation is engaged in straight away, which doesn’t inflict the emotional trauma that Betty’s death could have evoked which I found quite underwhelming and frustrating.
Henry Chinaski doesn’t come across as a likeable character at all either, he has an air of nonchalance most of the way through the book and an aggressive way of speaking to the other characters. Although this behaviour could very easily be a result of his excessive drinking. He’s quite a depressed character who does heavily rely on alcohol to get through life, so it could be possible for the reader to excuse his entire character on the basis that he is a very broken man. His relationships and sex life are somewhat inadequate, he hates his job, he drinks to excess and bets away a lot of his money on horse races. There’s a lot of emotional avoidance too which is frustrating to read as it makes Henry seem like an ignorant character. However once his emotional state is hinted at, it’s easily assumed that he represses a lot which is why there is a lack of emotional attachment anywhere in the book.
Despite not really enjoying the premise of the book I did like the way in which the book goes full circle; the reader is introduced to Henry at the post office, the middle of the book shows the various other jobs and exploits that occur and then at the end he returns to the post office. If you liked The Catcher in the Rye then you will definitely like this book as they involve very similar concepts, however if you’re looking for a lighthearted read this is not the book for you.
By Beth Morley