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Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 5 February 2021

"The Place of Dead Roads" by William Burroughs

 All the usual hallmarks of a Burroughs novel: the young men having gay sex, the violence and mutilation, the weird chimeric monstrosities, recurring characters and episodes from other Burroughs novels, the fractured narrative, the sense that you are somewhere in between a trip on LSD (sometimes good, sometimes nightmarish), gay erotic fantasy and a 1950s science fiction B-movie. 

As the blurb says, Burroughs has a style that is "utterly unique in twentieth-century literature" though there are echoes of other writers:  

The fractured, chaotic narrative (although Place of Dead Roads has a more linear narrative than much of Burroughs's oeuvre) and the gay leitmotif remind me of Jean Genet, for example The Thief's Journal.

The inventiveness and the science fiction style fantasies remind me of J G Ballard, for example Millennium People or High Rise but especially The Unlimited Dream Company; J G Ballard was an admirer of Burroughs

The headlong reel of the narrative reminds me of work by Jack Kerouac, for example On The Road.

And other authors that seem to belong in this area include Tony Hanania (Eros Island, Homesick) and Alexander Trocchi (Cain's Book). 

What is interesting is the way that Burroughs reuses characters and events from other books, particularly in terms of some of his erotic and sado-masochistic fantasies.

The fractured narrative is a result of Burroughs use of a 'cut up' technique, as if he has taken a linear narrative and deliberately rearranged it. This gives it a sense of bricolage but also imparts qualities of madness. The obsession with magic and the paranoia of alien invasion add to the irrationality. It was written when the author was 69 at the end of a life repeatedly interrupted by drug addiction. It does not seem to be the product of a completely sane mind.

Which makes much of it virtually unreadable. The characters are about as real as they are in 1950s Hollywood science friction B-movies and, as mentioned above, there is no coherent narrative so it can scarcely be said to have a plot. There are rants against the church, the English, the class system ... 

So why bother? Because it is so different. And because there are occasional flashes of wonder:

  • "Slave Gods in the firmament." (Part One, p 19)
  • "There are signs that indicate the presence of a stranger in rural areas. Some are positive, like the barking of dogs. Other indications are negative, like the sudden cessation of frogs croaking." (Part One, p 20)
  • "Kim is a slimy, morbid youth of unwholesome proclivities with an insatiable appetite for the extreme and the sensational. His mother has been into table-tapping and Kim adores ectoplasm, crystal balls, spirit guides and auras. He wallows in abominations, unspeakable rites, diseased demon lovers, loathsome secrets imparted in a thick, slimy whisper, ancient ruined cities under a purple sky, the smell of unknown excrements, the musky sweet rotten reek of the terrible Red Fever, erogenous sores suppurating in the idiot giggling flesh." (Part One, p 23)
  • "Kim thought maybe he would study medicine and become a doctor, but while he liked diseases he didn't like sick people. They complained all the time. They were petulant and self-centered and boring." (Part One, p 25)
  • "The townspeople were antivaccinationists ... 'polluting the blood of Christ', they called it. Around the trun of the century there were a number of these antivaccination cults, a self-limiting phenomenon since all the cultists contracted smallpox sooner or later." (Part One, p 72)
  • "Kim now realises they they can take over bodies and minds and use them for their purposes. So why do they always take over stupid, bigoted people or people who are retarded or psychotic?" (Part One, p 92)
  • "Mary could say 'no' quicker than any woman Kim ever knew and none of her no's ever meant yes." (Part Two, p 113)
  • "'I didn't like his face,' Joe said. 'Missed your calling,' Kim told him. 'Should have been a plastic surgeon'." (Part Two, p 118)
  • "Should auld acquaintance be forgot ... In many cases, yes." (Part Two, p 121)
  • "It always happens, the big cattle men go soft in the outhouse." (Part Two, p 155)
  • "The porters are deferring to the signal presented by his clothes and luggage. They don't see him." (Part Three, p 169)

Mostly unreadable, and very similar to his other books, but there are some nuggets. February 2021; 268 pages

Other books by William Burroughs in the blog include:

This review was written
by the author of Motherdarling


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