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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Firsthand Account of Withdrawal, 17 April 2013
This review is from: Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
William Burroughs was a hero of the literary counterculture. With a penchant for madcap experimentation (i.e. the hit-and-miss cut-ups), and a mischievous iconoclasm, Burroughs redefined the modern novel. But those looking for the hallucinatory and paranoid shenanigans of Naked Lunch will be disappointed by Queer. As a straightforward realist love story, it should be read as a companion piece to Junky, Burroughs's first novel. Yet whereas Junky was a firsthand account of addiction, Queer is a firsthand account of withdrawal. Still, despite the seedy milieu of 1940s Mexico City, it is a moving tale, and a raw depiction of unrequited love.

Of primary importance, however, is Burroughs's 'Introduction to the 1985 Edition', a preface in which he recounts the moment that led to him becoming a writer: 'the accidental shooting death' of his wife, Joan Vollmer, in September 1951. This shocking event, so prominent in the Burroughs mythology, 'motivated and formulated' his writing; it also brought him into contact with the 'invader, the Ugly Spirit' that possessed him when he shot his spouse. From that moment onwards, his existence was driven by 'a constant need to escape from possession, from Control'. Was he really possessed, or is this simply a schizoid escape from responsibility?

The story of Queer is simple: William Lee is looking for love. Trawling the dives of Mexico City, he picks the young Eugene Allerton, and so begins an amorous tussle between innocence and experience. Allerton, though, is a rather disinterested receiver of Lee's advances. Worried about his lover's involvement in the City's noisome revels, Lee whisks Allerton down to South America in search of Yage, a mystical drug that increases 'telepathic sensitivity'. The quest fails, Allerton absconds, and the love affair is over.

Despite the solemn topic, there are moments when the antic Burroughs pokes his head through the realist fabric. To allay his nerves, and to mask his 'shocking disintegration', Lee improvises certain Routines, surreal little skits that exasperate his listeners but seduce his avid readers. They act as a necessary entry, for both Burroughs and Lee, into a world of fancy, a world devoid of responsibility and one cleansed of the 'stupid, ordinary, disapproving people who kept him from doing what he wanted to do'. Burroughs, then, even in these early novels, is yearning to remould humanity, to infiltrate its values with his own decadent needs: the project would take the rest of his life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Queer, 15 Oct 2013
This review is from: Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
At its heart, William Burroughs' Queer is a tale about the desperation and despair of unrequited love. It begins where Junky left off, with Burroughs' literary alter ego William Lee skulking around Mexico City in the company of American ex-pats, barflies and dilettante students. Having drastically cut back on the junk, Lee is no longer insulated from his true feelings and becomes obsessed with sex and relationships, eventually fixating his suffocating attention on a young American named Eugene Allerton. Lee pursues Allerton through the bars and backwaters of Mexico City, attempting to enrapture him with a serious of booze-fuelled, increasingly manic sermons on life and truth. Allerton ultimately gives in to Lee's pursuit and becomes his lover but, without the security provided by a mind clouded by junk, Lee cannot ignore the disinterest and even contempt that Allerton actually feels for him. In a bid to fight off the reality of the situation, Lee takes his reluctant lover to Ecuador on a pilgrimage in search of the legendary hallucinogenic drug Yage.

In his introduction to the 25th anniversary edition, Oliver Harris provides a neat overview of Burroughs oeuvre and of Queer's place within it. He remarks that, since there are no "straight" books in William Burroughs' oeuvre - any one of them might be called Queer - his second novel is perversely typical and fulfils the meaning of the title as noun (homosexual - used pejoratively or with pride), adjective (peculiar, false, dubious) and verb (to thwart, unnerve, unsettle). Queer is certainly at times a perplexing novel, no doubt due in no small part to its being the most obviously personal of all Burroughs' works. While Junky was also a heavily autobiographical novel, both Burroughs the writer and the substitute that he employs in the story were at the height of their narcotics addictions. They were consumed with thoughts of junk and so had very little personality to share. However, in common with the William Lee character, Burroughs was making only limited use of drugs at the time of Queer and so couldn't hide from his own true feelings and conflicts. His struggle with his own homosexuality is reflected in the thoughts and actions of Lee and so, given the importance of "queerness" in his life at that time, it is no surprise that the title Queer was reserved and best-suited to this second novel.

Further insight into just how personal Queer was, and also how important the novel was in Burroughs' development as both an author and a person, can be found in his own introduction to the 1985 edition of Queer which is included at the end of this edition. In it Burroughs vividly recounts losing the comforting, emotion-dulling blanket provided by the junk and, far more poignantly, acknowledges that he began writing Queer just eight months after he accidentally shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer. Burroughs comments that "the book is motivated and formed by an event which is never mentioned, in fact carefully avoided: the accidental shooting death of my wife, Joan, in September 1951" and goes on to confess that he is "forced to the appalling conclusion that [he] would never have become a writer but for Joan's death." The amount of raw emotion displayed in Queer should therefore come as no surprise. The dark, melancholy cloud that seems to hang over William Lee in the story reflects, whether intentionally or otherwise, the turmoil that Burroughs himself was experiencing at this point. While Queer is less well-known than both Junky and Naked Lunch, it is arguably Burroughs' most powerful novel.

Although Queer is a fairly straightforward, linear story in the same vein as Junky, it does offer an insight into the literary style that Burroughs' would adopt for his later novels. When Lee begins going through his "Routine", that being the telling of his fantastical stories in an attempt to woo Allerton, there is a sense of the way Burroughs' writing was to develop from the linear, commonsensical style of the majority of the Queer narrative to the experimental, almost schizophrenic style of Naked Lunch and other later works.

Queer is unflinchingly personal but also sparklingly political. A seemingly realistic narrative that breaks into the wildest fantasies, it chronicles a startlingly intense period in the life of William Burroughs, a troubled and fascinating man.
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4.0 out of 5 stars William Burroughs - Queer | Review, 31 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Despite the negative connotations of the title, Queer is by no means homophobic - if anything, it's a celebration of Burroughs' sexuality. It's effectively an extension of Junkie, another of Burroughs' celebrated dystopian novels, written in the third person instead of in the first.

I actually enjoyed Queer more than the majority of Burroughs' other work, and it's certainly better than Naked Lunch in my opinion - it's a good work to start with, and it's slightly more lucid than a good deal of his most celebrated literature. If this is the first Burroughs book that you ever read, you won't be scared away by his incoherence.
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5.0 out of 5 stars an enjoyable read, 19 Jan 2013
By 
S. E. Zabowska (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
My first book of this author and a very interesting one. It is well written and easy to read. Full of observations of human nature, engaging, and intelligent.
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1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read., 16 Jan 2011
By 
G. Rees (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Queer was a follow up to Junky and the prose style is similar making it an easy read. I should say I was disturbed on far too many occasions by my young children whilst trying to read it but it concerns his period in Mexico to where he departed in something of a hurry after his personal "story" detailed in Junky. Be warned, the story is short - more of a novelette, and I found the ending a bit abrupt and unresolved at the same time. I should give it another read when the children stop emptying milk (if I'm lucky) on it and otherwise abusing it
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Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics)
Queer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Modern Classics) by William S Burroughs (Paperback - 25 Nov 2010)
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