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.
Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto. Abacus paperback – 6Op
Anthony Scaduto’s biography has attempted a portrait of Bob Dylan, warts and all, and what spoils it from being a definitive history of Dylan from childhood until now, is a scarcely hidden veneration approaching idolatory. But between this book and the autobiography that Dylan is reported as writing (will it take as long to reach us as his novel Tarantula, possibly the most famous underground novel of all, until it was finally published), enough material must now be on record to interpret the myths and enigmas which have always surrounded one of the earliest of the Super Stars. Scaduto appears to have interviewed every known Dylan contact — exhaustively.
And the only trouble is that in his effort to appear completely objective (an effort that fails) large chunks of apparently unedited, uninformative interviews roll endlessly on ie: “When I knew him he was in no way being Jewish. That was something he was absolutely not being at all. Even after he knew that I knew he was Bob Zimmerman from up on the Range, he was not being Jewish. He was saying his mother wasn’t…” And this after many pages dealing with Dylan’s early denial of his heritage.
Dylan appears not only as a ruthless, cruel, unhappy manipulator who’s only aim was the pinnacle which he has now found to be so untenable, but as one of Rock ‘n‘ Roll’s few serious claimants for the ‘Genius’ tag.
Rumours that homosexual or bi-sexual episodes in his life have been removed at Dylan’s ‘request’, tie up with Scaduto’s obviously total involvement and admiration.
Nonetheless, an honest enough attempt to present the truth behind the changing face on the LP covers.
Heroes and Villains – Angela Carter – Picador paperback, 4Op.
Heroic, legendary, Tolkien-like… these and similar phrases pepper the quotes on the back cover of this book. Well, for me, it wasn’t quite so large in scope. I thought, in fact, that it’s structure clearly indicated its firm roots in the here and now.
On the one hand, a clinical, orderly, comfy, well-protected community, in which the greatest respect is accorded academics and those with ‘experience’; on the other, the violent, brutal, primitive world of the ‘Barbarians’, to whom the professor’s daughter escapes.
We, like Marianne, are asked which is best. The brutal and elemental, or the coldly civilised? The madness induced by societal repression, or the death from wounds or disease? Primitive or civilised?
This is in many ways the conflict everyone shies away from – the fears of the older generation as the young threaten to destroy the constricting, but also supportive structure called society. The book stands as an expression of the falseness of the security kick – the feeling of security which no-one seems to have and everyone wants – and the way in which this debilitates people. The Barbarians are much more alive than the Professors.
But the question ‘Which is best’ is never answered, the conflict never resolved. It all depends on what you want. If you’ve made your mind up that you’re on the side of the revolution, then this book will be too. And vice versa. It doesn’t look like any choice at all to me.
In the past few weeks three major books about women’s liberation have been re-issued in paperback. If you are at all interested in what women’s lib is about, and why the women active in the movement consider their struggle necessary, then these three books are essential reading.
The first is The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Originally published in France in 1948 (the English translation first appearing in 1953), this book still remains one of the most indispensible works on women and their position in male-dominated societies.
The second is Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. This American writer’s book is considered by i many to be as important as Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Her comments on homosexuality, both male and female are particularly interesting.
Lastly, The Dialectic of Sex, (subtitled: The Case for Feminist Revolution) by Shulamith Firestone, is thought to be a contemporary continuation of the analysis of sexism as first defined by Simone de Beauvoir. It presents an articulated blueprint for sexual revolution by one of the most outspoken of America’s Radical Feminists.
The Obscenity Report. Published by the Olympia Press. Paperback. 50p.
If you are not already bored to tears with the subject of obscenity and pornography, this book presents the findings of three reports/commissions whose conclusions vastly differ to those of Lord Longford and his ‘porn-busters’.
Introduced by John Trevelyan, the book contains the most significant parts of The Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (The Johnson Report), The Report of The Arts Council of Great Britain (1969) on the Obscene Publications Acts and The Report from the Danish Forensic Medicine Council to the Danish Penal Code Council (1966).
And believe me, or prove it for yourself by reading these informative, literate investigations their disclosures show how bigoted and unresearched Longford’s enquiry was.
The book is prefaced by Maurice Girodias, who himself went to prison in France because of some of the titles published in his famous Olympia Press Traveller’s Companion Series. Also included is a statement by President Richard Nixon, which rejects the Report of the Presidential Commission. Longford and his ‘band of angels’ unfortunately have one powerful, muddle-headed ally in the States.
A parting comment from your humble reviewer, ‘You see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear.’