An American Scream

The Room – by Hubert Selby Jr.
Published by Calder and Boyars £2.50.

Now that the Media has tired somewhat with The Permissive Society, just as they took up and dropped Swinging London, Drugs and Decimal Currency as soon as their mileage as circulation boosters faltered, it is possible for a book like Hubert Selby’s The Room to be quietly assimilated into the English literary scene without outraged shrieks from The People or purple prosed editorials from The Sunday Express.

It is his first novel since Last Exit To Brooklyn brought the world wide controversy over obscenity, censorship, and the arts to a head; and although it has been dismissed in some quarters as one of the most unpleasant books ever written, it has strengthened the right of the writer and his audience to choose for themselves.

Briefly, the book once again examines the Kafka-like horror of life in American cities; how life and love can be transformed to death and hate through the enigmatic powers of the Fascist State.

A nameless man is confined to a prison cell, his crime is vague and insubstantial, his trial apparently endlessly lived out in his mind. There are masturbatory fantasies of his early teenage experiments – guilt-ridden finger-fucking ending in joyless orgasm; and sadistic fantasies involving platoons of policemen forced into impersonating performing dogs — begging, fucking, licking each other’s arses in front of an audience of their families and children.

It is a weary and joyless novel, conceived in concern and despair, but it is impossible to deny that Selby’s work is amongst the most vital now being written. This is the age when the novel is arguably dead, with only Mailer, Nabokov, Fowles, Lord Longford’s team and a handful of others even trying to keep it alive, and although The Room is unpleasant, probably obscene (it is not an erotic work), it is important nonetheless. Read it.

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