on 28 July 2004
Just picked up Factotum by Bukowski, after reading The Losers Club by Richard Perez. Strange 'cause both books are somehow related. The connection? The drudgery of menial work! The dehumanizing affects of a life-wasting occupation is an underlying theme, mixed with accounts of failed relationships and an overall freefloating narrative structure. In Factotum, Buk recounts his mostly autobiographical adventures as a floating unemployed (and often unemployable) menial worker. He travels from state to state, writing and collecting rejection letters from magazines, and tries to deal with the unending humiliation of low-paying jobs and rat-trap apartments and fragile relationships. Often, he ends up hitting the bottle and, in bars, ends up meeting up with fellow drunks and losers and desperate ladies struggling to scrape by. There's humor here but also a lot of truth, some it stark and grim. One line that blew me away, gave me chills was: "Ain't no women on skid row." This was over Chinaski's anxiety regarding a female drinking companion. The style of the book is simple and easy and direct, and I found myself sucked into it right away. A child could read this book. I also read the whole book in one day, which for me is a first. Definitely pick up a copy of this novel. It's not as famous as his other novels, but as a memorable account/study of a "working stiff," worth owning, especially if you like Buk and his "down and out" view of life and appreciate his humor.
This book is not uplifting. Bukowski pulls no punches in his description of a writer fighting for success, while fighting a losing battle against his own demons and apathy. Simply can't believe someone turned this into a film. Bukowski simply has to be read as a great American writer, shining a light on a part of America in the twentieth century that is not often looked at. His style is economical and fast paced, and you swiftly get drawn into a tale of characters doing really very little except messing up their lives. Don't read it when your down and alone.
on 26 August 2013
"Factotum" is an extraordinary novel which embodies both comedy and tragedy and offers a portrait of a truly magnificent and complex character and a past, somewhat forgotten age. Set during the ending of WW2 and the post war America, "Factotum" chronicles the life of Henry Chinaski, Charles Bukowski's alter ego. Chinaski is the complete anti-hero. He's a loser but because he choses to be. Chinaski loses by default, on his terms. If one does not fight he can never truly be defeated. Chinaski goes from a horrible job to the next, drinking as much as he can afford and going from one dysfunctional relationship to another. He's a rebel but one that surrenders before the revolution even starts. He comes dangerously close to nihilism but deep down Chinaski has beliefs. He hates "the man". He hates how the poor and helpless are mercilessly exploited and used as tools for "a pitiful buck and a quarter an hour". He admits defeat, he knows things will never change and he even knows he must play the "game" but what I found to be honorable and even heroic is that he never compromises. He plays by his own rules with complete disregard for the consequences. And when the time comes he faces it like a man! Henry Chinaski just doesn't give a damn and I deeply respect him for that!
Bukowski's writing style is raw and brutal. He's dirty and disgusting and very graphic. He writes with a very appealing, dry wit and with a beautiful simplicity that makes his prose addicting to read. The book is divided into small chapters, each of them almost short-stories dealing with women, alcoholism and of course the odyssey of jobs from where Chinaski keeps getting fired. There's no Chinaski without women and booze but unlike other Bukowski novels, "Factotum"'s goal is to paint a portrait of its time and how the desperate men and women of the working class were (still are?) used as a cheap disposable and unlimited resource in the service of capital. Between all the Chinaski drunken antics and failed romances and cheap sex there's a sense of gloom and tragedy and even dehumanization in every page. The brilliance of Bukowski is how he mixes both comedy and pain and manages to insert Chinaski's black humor in even the darkest moments of human misery and desolate existence.
"Factotum" is moving, thought provoking, sleazy and glorious. Its funny and sad or better yet, sad in a funny way! I wish I could have a whiskey with Henry Chinaski. Even one of those cheap ones you get at a crummy bar with your last dollar when you're down on your luck and had a really lousy day. Which I guess is always! At least for Hank Chinaski.
on 4 June 2013
I am enjoying this book so much it almost defies words. Charles Bukowski has very quickly become my favourite author and I think his shocking and fascinating use of the 'gritty realism' style has and will be influencing my own writing. An incredibly interesting tale of the mundane man that somehow puts you in his place and keeps you locked into the story, a real page-turner. This is the kind of book that if you lose track of it you will turn your room upside down to find it again (even if it turns out afterwards you just left it downstairs). A great read, incredible man, though I'd recommend checking out Post Office first, get more of a feel for the character in the right order.
I'd also recommend Bukowski's poetry collection 'Love is a Dog from Hell'.
on 29 June 2002
Another book from Bukowski about his alter-ego Hank Chinaski. The semi-biographical stories and encounters of the protagonist are short, sharp and acerbic. The stream-of-conciousness thoughts are reminiscient of Holden Caulfield's own, however the writing is not as refined.
As Hank drifts through a depressingly-set America, he comes across all manner of drunks, prostitutes, reprobates and over-enthused bosses. Chinaski is apathetic, alcoholic and amoral. America is uncaring, unthinking and unsettled. They encounter each other with negative results. It's almost like several short stories woven into a novel with amazing ease.
Although Hank Chinaski is the antithesis of any 'do-gooder', I couldn't help but sympathise for this anti-hero. When you realise it's basically the life story of the author, you feel different.
on 9 January 2015
The title of Bukowski’s second novel is actually stolen property, pilfered by English, like so many others, from Latin. The implications are worth noting for a factotum is a “master of everything” and in the case of Henry Chinaski this means not just repairing bicycles and factory work, it means gambling, drinking and womanising. Just as Karl Marx viewed production as a sensuous human activity, as much a part of our species-being as it is our alienation, Bukowski seems to take a more literal line – he is production.
Henry Chinaski makes his way across the States often desperately penniless and drunk. He works any job he can find and hangs his hat wherever he can. We follow Hank as he sleeps on park benches and rides the rails from place to place. The only thing going for him, in the world of work, is the time he can afford to sell and the sweat he can shed for meagre wage-packets. Inevitably Chinaski is propelled forward by crises. He never seems to hold onto anything for too long, whether it’s jobs or a place to stay. In a society where everyone is supposed to be middle-class, or working to be, Bukowski writes about the gutter and for the gutter.
All in all, I found Factotum (1975) was a much more focused piece of work than Post Office (1971). What do I mean by this? It doesn’t wander too far from its themes. Perhaps because the latter was the first completed book it was inevitably going to encompass a lot. Both read as aimless, staggering odysseys through American society. But it’s Factotum which takes aim at work.
To the reader Bukowski levels his anti-work ethos and prods and pokes the assumptions we hold about work and its demands on us. At one point Bukowski writes: “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, s***, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” It’s a good question.
In one chapter Henry loses his job and pushes the boss to make sure that he gets his welfare payments. He speaks as ‘the working-man’ here, not the poet of skid-row. The moment fits well. After all Bukowski stands out from the petty-bourgeois universalism of American society, – pretentions to meritocracy, individual liberty, and even democracy – it’s all up for grabs in this world. Chinaski is in one way an exemplar of the Protestant work ethic. He proves his father wrong by being able to go from job to job. But the story is hardly an advertisement for the ‘American Dream’.
Of course, the narcissism of the dirty old man is on show in the work. He’s both proud of his life as a working-class Joe, but he’s also imbued with self-love over his knowledge of just how worthless it all is. He feels he has profound insights to offer. And even as Hank leads a meaningless life, as we all surely do, his prose makes it meaningful. This is the heart of the heartless world.
on 31 July 2014
This is Charles Bukowski's second novel. He began writing it in 1972, got stuck for a while, and it was eventually published in 1975. It contains all the classic elements of Bukowski's writing: sparse prose, autobiographical style, sneering at authority, alcoholism, sex, isolation, alienation, the individual as survivor despite constant self-destructive behaviour. It takes the reader through the dead end jobs of his twenties (the 1940s), his classification as 4-F by the army draft, and his relationship with his girlfriend Jan (Jane Cooney Baker). It is only 163 pages long but a gripping read.
While I enjoy Bukowski's prose, I found myself routinely disbelieving many of the punchlines of the anecdotes. I note that Bukowski himself said that his books were fiction, telling Nando Pivano it was 95% truth 5% fiction, and Marc Chenetier that it was 90% and 10%. Barry Miles in his biography estimates that "The percentage is probably closer to 50% fact, 50% fantasy". I also note that despite his alcoholism and regular rejection of work opportunities, Bukowski never hit skid row, and even during the time covered by this book lived with his parents for almost two years (though Bukowski prefers not to mention this in "Factotum", other than that he stayed until he could afford to move out, implying it was just a few weeks). Because of the many versions of events told to a number of people, it is impossible to know the real truth , for instance Barry Miles writes regarding Jan (Jane), that she was only the second woman to have sex with Charles (age 27 when he met her). This seems very likely to me, given the level of social anxiety of the young Bukowski, but it is at odds with the man of the world of "Factotum".
However what is true and what is myth-making does not matter. This is Charles Bukowski in all his gritty sparse readable prose giving voice to the alienated lonely embittered parts of ourselves.
on 10 January 2011
Bukowski belongs to the great American tradition where you also find John Steinbeck and Studs Terkel, or in painting, some of Edward Hopper or in the cinema, John Huston in his best work, such as "The Misfits" or "Fat City": stories about the Americans who aren't celebrating the American Dream but who are losers, people who just can't "make it" and whose lives consist of wandering without direction or purpose in the lower reaches of the capitalist cycle of production and consumption.
"Factotum" is essentially an urban book of poetry about the Skid Rows of many American cities as seen through the bottom of a whisky glass in a broken down bar, and the crazy, weird people you happen to run into as you move pointlessly from one dead-end job to another.
Bukowski's style is immense because it's not there; he writes with the inherent, self-sufficient functional style of a telephone pole or a frying machine in a cheap diner. Something that does the job, and that's it. Sometimes something flashes out, like gold:
"I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it."
"The next thing that happened was that they hired a Japanese girl. I had always had a very strange idea, for a long time, that after all the trouble and pain was over, that a Japanese girl would come along one day and we would live happily ever after. Not so much happily as easily and with deep understanding and mutual concern."
You guys know what this is about. Writing by a man, for men. Your girlfriend won't like this book.
on 19 July 2013
I read Post Office and loved Charles' style of writing and candid way of describing his life so I couldn't wait to read this one. He holds nothing back and just tells things as they were, including what he was thinking at the time. You must remember though that this was written a long time ago before people became more aware that sexism and racism was not acceptable, and so to some might not be such a good read. Though for anyone who loves the Beat Generation and has read Burroughs and Kerouac this is a great read written in a similar style.
on 3 November 2000
Bukowski, in just 200 pages, encapsulates everything that can go wrong in one persons life, especially if the centre of that life is alcohol. Moving from one wasted beggining to another, the highly autobiographical character, Henry Chianski, begings the slow descent first chronicled in 'Post Office', set some thrty years after, this is a form of prequal. The novels tag-line sums the entire book up, "When you drink, the world is still out their, but for the moment, it do'sent have you by the throat". A modern classic.