Friday, 24 April 2009

Book Review - 'Factotum', by Charles Bukowski

Sat on a gloomy and lonely Brighton beach, chained to the shackles of a mundane retail job, having just made the decision to move back home to my mother as I could no longer afford to live in London – this was the backdrop to my first brush with Bukowski – how beautiful is nature’s irony. Before I had left the Big Smoke, a dear friend had given me a copy of ‘Post Office’, saying that I would relate to the lost musings of a poet chained to the shackles of a mundane job and an alcoholic drink – how right he was.
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Whilst that moment now exists as a memory, my fascination with the enigmatic Bukowski remains as vivid and alive as it did back then. Those new to the author may wish to start off by reading the aforementioned ‘Post Office’, however this particular book review concerns the late, great man’s second book, ‘Factotoum’.

Following the book’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski, on a tour of menial jobs, alcoholism and desperation, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Bukowski is indeed drawing upon his own experiences in writing this unique novel. Full of amusing anecdotes and ‘real’ experiences (the blurb states that no-one has covered ‘being down and out’ as well since George Orwell), Factotum is easy to read and full of a thousand different stories that keep the reader hooked from start to finish.

Whilst all of Bukowski’s novels are laced with realism and portray a remarkable underworld that the majority of us will never experience (thankfully or not, depending on your personal outlook), it’s the resigned sadness of Bukowski’s situation that shines through in a novel that should be so much more wide-read than it is.

Bukowski’s shortcomings are obvious to all who read him – laziness, alcoholism, womanising - however it’s his honesty and resigned acceptance of his lot in life that makes the reader empathise with him, making his stories pack so much more of an emotional punch.

Whilst ‘Factotum’ may not be for the prudish amongst us (its coarse language and graphic descriptions of sexual encounters push the boundaries of the status quo’s ‘accepted literary boundaries’) it most definitely paints a picture that so many more people should appreciate.

As previously stated, if you’ve never read any Bukowski, ‘Post Office’ is the natural starting point, and if you’ve read this book already, you don’t need a review to tell you how essential Bukowski is. All I can say in summary, is that as the publishers state, grinding their agenda as there are, Bukowski is one of the most unique voices literature has ever seen – love him or hate him, you cannot deny him this accolade.

1 comment:

  1. As with my last comment, genius often divides. Nice work with this blog.