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.”
I read this book as part of The Classics Club
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. Henry’s perspective on life was quite harsh and the style of writing seemed kind of blunted. The book is heavily dominated by short, dramatic sentences placed next to each other which have no specific relevance to their counterparts resulting in heavy, hard-hitting situations being ignored. As soon as these sentences are read they are engulfed by the sentence that precedes it which never seemed to follow on but rather change the course of direction meaning that situations were never really explained but rather acknowledged. The narration seemed dismissive of everything that was happening, it was there to acknowledge what was happening but nothing more. However this dark and dismissive way of writing seemed complimentary to the way that Henry leads his life, I just wish I could have appreciated it in this way rather than finding it frustrating to read.
Throughout the book there are three aspects of life which are predominant for Henry 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, these being Betty, Joyce and Vi; each of these relationships seem to act as a burden on Henry sparking the idea that the only reason he engages in these relationships is to satisfy his need for sex. However the only woman who Henry seemingly has any kind of emotional attachment to is Betty. Henry’s relationship with Betty is bitter-sweet, she is introduced at the beginning of the book and following this 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, Betty’s death is glossed over and another situation is engaged in straight away. It felt as though by ignoring any implications that Betty’s death would have had, avoids inflicting or even acknowledging the emotional trauma that Henry may or may not have had 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. For a man that seemed so broken, the book compensated for this by presenting his mundane life in a very well-rounded way. 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