28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2005
I am very glad that I've read this book, but now I have, I will never read it again.
It is a hard-boiled account about marginalised people - a prostitute, a transvestite, a convict, and a sexually troubled trade union leader amongst others. The style of writing is utterly refreshing and compelling, the characterisation astonishing, and beating from deep within the book is a heart and humanity. It is not though a dispassioned or sanitised book - the words "raw" and "gritty" are a massive understatement at times.
Be in no doubt that this book can be brutal, it pulls no punches and it often leaves a dirty bloody taste in your mouth whilst reading it.
It's a very good book, there's no doubt about it, but be prepared for a painful and uneasy read. There are no happy endings.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2003
Last exit to Brooklyn is the only Selby Jnr. book I have read, yet will undoubtedly not be the last. Read in a stuffy hostel in Spain while ill, I was transfixed by a world of degredation, mysogyny, and utter contempt. The characters that Selby Jnr. portrays are visceral and hateful - Tralala is almost like a modern day Lulu, and ultimately deserves what she gets. Vince and his pals are hateful characters not unlike Burgess' Clockwork Orange mob - disrespectful to everyone and everything and getting away with it. It seems that Selby Jnr. is trying to show how the characters all use and abuse each other and ultimately, none are the better for it. This book is seedy, and the characters hateful, yet it had me gripped to the end.I still don't know why I enjoyed it so much and could not put it down - maybe this is Selby Jnr.s way of showing that we can be just as perverse as these fictional characters. Sickeningly enjoyable and made even more contreversial when thinking of the trouble Selby Jnr. had in getting it published. Will definitely be reading more of his work.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2004
Everyone should read this book once; sometimes it hurts to turn the page and watch another character that you have grown quietly fond of reach their inevitable downfall, or make the mistakes that you know are in their nature but that you don't want to see them make. By showing the nastier parts of mans characteristics unashamadly, Selby gives us not just a book, but a warning.
As much as people hate to see it, there is a little bit of one of the characters in all of us, whether the violent and materialistic Tralala or the tormented and love struck Georgette and it hurts to see our own natures portrayed so graphically in any text. But as difficult as this sometimes is, you walk away feeling somewhat cleansed and moved to not make the same mistakes. An unmissable piece of brilliance.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2000
This was Hubert Selby Jr. debut novel and such was the power of the book that in the UK, the original publishers were taken to court to be prosecuted for obscenity. Luckily for us the case was thrown out but the book has a raw power that is both compassionate and horrifying.
Selby writes sketches of various lives living in Brooklyn. All trying to survive on a estate that continually grinds them down. People do nasty things to each other but Selby doesn't condemn his characters but trys to comprehend them.
The stories are bitter and raw, from Tralala who cannot distinguish between sex and love to Harry, a repressed homosexual who lets out his anger on his workers, his wife, his children because he has never come to terms with his sexuality.
Selby writes in a prose style that ignores every rule of school grammer bar one: it has to be understood by the reader.
There are no speech marks, semi-colons and rarely does a comma appear. The effect is stunning, the text hits the mind like bullets as the emotion crosses out of the page. If you thought William Burrough's 'Naked Lunch' was a daring literary experiment, try 'Last Exit to Brooklyn'.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2010
I read this on a recent trip to New York City (pretentious I know, but it worked last time with "Catcher on the Rye" as well). One can see why it was so shocking on publication and indeed why it provoked a ban in the UK - it's a book very explicit in it's depiction of drug use, violence and illicit sex amongst the bottom end of post-war Brooklyn's denizens (namely it's addicts, petty criminals and drag queens). The coarse language, free prose and raw descriptions of lives lived in desperation and fear presumably must have seemed very disturbing and alien to uptight British readers at the time, particularly given that practising homosexuality in the UK was still a criminal offence.
Rather than being one cohesive novel, "Last Exit..." compiles a series of (possibly) inter-related short stories focussing in on one character and featuring a cast of other recurring characters (although whether or not these characters are indeed the same ones or new characters with the same names isn't made clear): perennial troublmaking punk Vinnie, hopeless romantic drag queen Georgette, small time hustler and call-girl Tralala and closeted union stooge Harry.
A couple of issues to address:
* I'm not sure how available it was at the time, but similar ground was covered by the even more shocking and accomplished Cain's Book by cult beat writer Alexander Trocchi. If you haven't read either, I'd go for the Trocchi book first.
* It's somewhat dated: perhaps on publication, it was more contemporary and vital but now it's more of a period piece, showing a slice of life probably now vanished - in particular the depiction of gays and transvestites pre-Stonewall seems a little quaint. Moreover, demographically I wonder how much of the original culture described is now left in NYC, given the massive shifts in population since then - would Selby Jr. even recognise the Brooklyn of today?
p.s. I never did see any signs for "Last Exit to Brooklyn" unfortunately...
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Life beyond social veils may be difficult to swallow. Dickens wrote about working class life with a dose of sentimentality pandering to his literati readership. The people he was writing about were not literate enough to read about themselves so he had to water his bile for bourgeois taste. After all, he could not afford to upset his readership with too much reality otherwise they would not buy his books. Even so he was a pioneer of life beyond the aspidistra spending his time visiting his Dad in Marshalsea Prison.
Selby however wrote at a time when working class people were climbing out of the sewers following the GI Bill. This allowed ex servicemen to get an education for free. This was the greatest social experiment ever attempted in USA. Those who survived the war could not only learn to read and write but also go to university. When they got there they realised there were no stories about them and their lives. There was just a blank.
Difficult to imagine as the US seems to be the archetype of free, easy and available, but this was fought for, rather than given. Selby was one of those who shoved the envelope as far as he could. The novel was banned for its salaciousness evidently. Why anyone would want to get hot and steamy about the types of sex in this novel is the subject Havelock Ellis dissected and was documented in the Kinsey Report?
Before Selby everything was Jane Austen, Bronte Sisters, Chaucer, Shakespeare or cowboys and indians. A whole chapter of American street life had been wiped clean. How many films have been made about urban squalor of the big cities in the 1900's, a time of turmoil? How many portray the licentiousness of pre-narcotic prohibition. Yes there was a time in the USA when you could buy a Cocaine cordial or a morphine pick you up from the local chemist/bar/charltan. All nicely shoved under the carpet a collective amnesia always needed to keep reality at bay. In the 50's the country was rolled over with Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Audrey Murphy and countless other two bit actors enacting genocide on indigenents in the name of Ntatainment.
If the 1900's did appear it was comedy...Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Harold Lloyd...If it was the 1950's musical and comedy dominated home entertainment. Elvis reeked sex but not poverty when he turned the lights on in the 20th C.
Selby wrote about what he saw about him in Brooklyn New York and it is not pretty. Then again having lived and worked in an x docklands area of S London this rings clear, loud and true. Life is nasty brutish short but also lived, a far cry from the rosy cheeked world of academia.Strikes fighting, pederasty, rape, sex working, drug use and an everpresent squall of depression. Last Exit exists.
This is a collection of stories, snapshots of life just before the war finished. Soldiers and Sailors roaming New York for a last fling before they meet their maker are smashed over the head with a bottle and their money ripped away from them. They will not be needing a roll of dough where they are heading. Women and Gays are just holes to be filled in between the drunken stumble between fights. The strike is a battle of masculine wills between the hard men and the soft men. In between is the self disgust, loathing, nighmares and a bombsite anhilating self esteem. This is all blustered with talk about girls, beer and fights.
Harry is the "hero" a man who milks the union and lives within its shadow is used as an enforcer. The factory forces the workers on strike to cut costs and Harry is the sacrificial lamb, literally as Cubby invokes the cross. In between we are led through the bachanal and Harry's loathing of his wife and kid. The book is a collection of short stories on similar themes. All written in the machine gun Brookly style of cynicism based on realism.
Open it up and immerse yourself in the sex, beatings, laughter and heartache and then sit back and thank yourself you can put it down and get on with the ironing. In having your views confirmed or eyes opened the net step is think whether that BMW or Laura Ashley dress is going to make the world a better place.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2013
I have read this book 3 to 4 times and never tire it, its life in the raw, vicious with no hope of escape , Some books leave you with a warm glow this book leaves you bloodied and bruised . Brilliant
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2003
I don't know, maybe it's me and my own issues, and my macabre mind and my attraction to the 'other' life, and my romantic notion of it all, but there was something charming in this book - other reviews have stipulated how you were unable to take a liking to any of the characters and I worry as I differ in opinion. There was something, without putting my finger on it, that I was almost in love with - the characters, some kind of loneliness and watching them reach out and hide away and, something almost vulnerable about them. How did they get there, it depends on your notion of society - do you think there are inherently evil people? I believe - perhaps naïvely - that there is a good in us all, and so reading about the back ends of Brooklyn life, about the down and outs, I was somewhat smitten. Selby has a great talent in making you the watcher, who needs a movie when he creates one in your own mind, in his vernacular, in his eschewing all grammatical correctness, in rambling on and on and on, but it's okay - because you want him to carry on and on and on. I can understand why Anthony Burgess was such a supporter of this book when it went through such pains to be able to published in the United Kingdom, for there is a lot about Selby's writing - and especially this work - that reminds me a lot of A Clockwork Orange, not only the characters, and their immoral selves, but also the writing and it's daring to take leaps to grounds that are untouched.
The reason that it was stopped from publication is apparently that its gross and obscene, and I have struggled to understand how! It's life, it happens, open your eyes - it's you and me, if we had taken that road. But how superbly he picks up on it, how superb indeed!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2009
I will never forget how it felt to read this book.
The language here seems to do things I thought were only possible on film or on mind altering drugs: it creates a world so vivid that as a reader I was trapped by it, in a universe of sharp edges, hopelessly real. I hadn't felt so wrapped up in a novel since I read Huckleberry Finn - which is in my top 5 favourite American Novels of all times. (The similarities stop there though).
There are no likeable characters in Last Exit (I felt both pity and resentment towards them and the combination made me uneasy), so you will need to find a way to appreciate the text outside of the identification process. The narrator will not guide you nor prepare you for the horror of what is to come. Everything is crude, desperate, wretched and violent - as if to hint that reality is being served up unaltered.
I cannot but admire the author's success in crafting this text, with no central character to cling to, no overall plot to follow but just a cold shower of 'reality' - un-apologizing, un-moralising and completely devoid of hope. People seem to interact on a very superficial level - they are unable to understand themselves and unwilling to see others. Each is stuck in the prison of his mind, pointlessly banging his head against its bars with inexhaustible rage.
Zola meets Welsh? Haunting? gut wrenching? These are all terms I don't like using because they have lost their impact, but this book makes me wish they hadn't. This is like the rape scene in Irreversible, the flogging in The Heart is deceitful above all things, like the men killed off by cold and exhaustion in If this is a man. It is like being shoved into Bolgia 5 and knowing that there is NO EXIT.
This novel reminded me of what literature can do.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 18 June 2004
An amazingly written book, which is in a style so completely original it makes Selby stand out as an amazing author. The story of desperately lonely transvestite Gearogette left me feeling physically sick, although this does not sound like a good thing it shows just how powerful the stories are and how lifelike they become through Selby's writing. This is the type of book that wil stay with the reader long after they have finished it. Hubert Selby's death earlier this year will leave a great loss so i recomend to everyone to read the stunning novels he left behind.