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on 18 January 2018
my daughter loves it
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on 7 October 2017
What an amazing book. A super read. Better than the film. A book that will stay with you.
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on 9 July 2017
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on 9 January 2018
Perfect condition
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on 20 August 2017
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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...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2017
Hubert Selby's first book, "Last Exit to Brooklyn" was published in the 1964. It was subject to an obscenity trial in England although it escaped U.S. censors unscathed. The book was reissued in 1988, coinciding with the release of a movie loosely based upon it. The book's dark vision remains with the passage of time. It is not a book for the squeamish, faint-hearted, or for the conventional.

The book consists of a series of loosely related stories of varying length taking place in the tenements of Brooklyn. Many of the incidents center around an odious local bar known as "the Greeks" and its patrons. The longest story, "Strike" is about a long and ugly labor dispute and its effect on Harry, a worker and the strike organizer, on his marriage and on his sense of sexual identity. The story is detailed, sordid, violent, and fascinating. Other stories explore the world of cheap hookers, transvestites, drug users, petty crooks and drunks. The stories are raw told in a crude language of the streets appropriate to their subject matter.

The book reminded me of the early work of probably my favorite novelist, the Victorian writer George Gissing, in its concentration of the underlife in our cities. There is little of the express vulgarity and sexual crudity in the Victorian writer, but I think Gissing and Selby would have understood each other nonetheless.

This book is a disturbing picture of low life, partly written in the language and mores of its times but transcending that. There is little in the way of hope or love in the book and I think that the author wants to show us the consequences of a lack or hope and love. It is a book that in a materialist age can teach compassion in a language and style that pulls for attention. It is very sad, but the book invites and demands reflection. It shows us what is missing. This is probably a book that will be remembered in the literary history of the United States.

Robin Friedman
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on 13 August 2015
“Last Exit to Brooklyn”- Selby took his title from a traffic direction sign- is normally described as a “novel”, but there is no single continuous narrative and it might better be regarded as a series of six loosely interconnected short stories and novellas, all set in the New York Borough of Brooklyn during the 1950s, around a decade before it was published. It was a highly controversial work when it first came out in 1964, largely because it dealt with such taboo subjects as rape, homosexuality transvestism and drug use. It was the subject of a famous British obscenity trial; at first instance the publishers were convicted, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

The book was not only controversial on account of its subject-matter; Selby’s prose style also raised a few eyebrows. It is written in slangy, demotic language, with much use of profanity. Words are often contracted or run together and spelt according to the rules of colloquial New York pronunciation rather than of strict English orthography. Nor does the book follow normal rules of punctuation; there are, for example, no apostrophes and, more radically, no speech marks. The effect of this can be disconcerting; one reviewer complains that it is not always possible to say whether a character is thinking, speaking or narrating. The same point occurred to me, but unlike that reviewer I felt that this confusion was not an error or evidence of sloppy writing on Selby’s part but something done quite deliberately for effect. It seemed to me that Selby was aiming at creating a new, experimental style of prose, somewhere in between traditional third-person storytelling and modernist first-person stream-of-consciousness narrative.

It is notable that even in passages ostensibly written in the third person there is no single omniscient narrator; Selby adapts the tone of his authorial voice to something appropriate to the main character of that particular story, so that the impression is given that the character is stepping outside himself or herself to narrate his or her own story. In his “Afterword” Selby gave some examples of how this effect had been achieved:

“When Vinnie is the subject the language and rhythms reflect him with their harshness; and with Georgette the sounds and rhythms are sibilant, soft, feminine, a lot of alliteration, the images romantic.”

This ability to reproduce different tones of voice in this way shows him to have been a writer of considerable technical skill; his achievement becomes all the more remarkable when one considers that this was a first novel and that he had had little formal education.

The criticism is sometimes made that the book is “anti-gay”, but I do not think that is accurate. Attitudes to homosexuality in the fifties and sixties were much less liberal than they are today, and it struck me that Selby was not endorsing these illiberal attitudes but rather impliedly criticising them. Public hostility to male homosexuality meant that gay men could not simply be gay men; they were compelled to hide behind either a feminine persona as does Georgette (originally George) or an outward display of swaggering, exaggerated masculinity as does Harry, who is actually married, albeit unhappily. Neither character can be described as sympathetic: Georgette arouses pity rather than sympathy, which is not quite the same thing, and Harry is an unpleasant, deeply flawed, individual. Nevertheless, there is certainly a suggestion that at least some of the flaws in Harry’s personality- his aggression, his abuse of his wife, his uncompromising attitude at work- arise from his being forced to hide his true nature behind a façade.

Harry is the main character in the fifth, and longest, story in the book, which deals with a strike in a local factory. Selby draws a rather negative picture of the union and its activities, but in truth there was a lot to criticise in trade unionism during the fifties and sixties. Some of the abuses mentioned here were even more ingrained in Britain than in America. A movement which had originally been designed to promote working-class solidarity and the interests of the common man had become bogged down in a rules-for-rules-sake mentality and often served to divide the working class by setting union members against non-members. As employers would pass on increased labour costs to their customers in price rises, even successful industrial action could result in one man’s pay rise becoming another (often poorer) man’s increase in the cost of living. Selby is also critical of the employers’ position; the plant’s management despise Harry, rightly seeing his militancy as stemming from a desire for self-aggrandisement, but fail to realise that it is their own confrontational, hard-line attitudes which allow men like Harry to flourish.

Despite Selby’s skill as a writer, I would not describe “Last Exit to Brooklyn” as a favourite of mine, although the reason for this has nothing to do with those aspects of the book which made it so controversial on its release. Under British law at this period, “obscene” was not simply a synonym for “erotic” or “pornographic”. A book could only be condemned as “obscene” if the prosecution could prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that it had a tendency to “deprave and corrupt”- that is to say that the effect of reading it would be to make the average man or woman more likely not merely to think immoral thoughts but also to commit immoral acts. On the basis of this definition it would be difficult to think of a book less “obscene” than “Last Exit”. Selby certainly deals with vice, but he can hardly be accused of doing so in a way which would make a life of vice seem attractive to the average man or woman. To take an example Tralala, the oddly-named prostitute who is the title character of the fourth story, is about as far from the sentimental cliché of the “tart with a heart” as one can get. More like a “whore with a flaw”. Her story could almost be a cautionary story warning women of the dangers of prostitution, and men of the dangers of becoming involved with prostitutes.

My own criticism of the book would have more to do with what I saw as Selby’s bleak, almost misanthropic portrayal of working-class life in Brooklyn. An excessively pessimistic world-view can be just as unrealistic as an excessively optimistic one, and here the author offers us nothing but almost unrelieved pessimism. The world inhabited by his characters is not only violent, mean and sordid, it is also notably joyless. We never see anyone do anything for any motive other than a base one; we never see anyone who seems capable of decency, selflessness or generosity, and when someone is capable of love their live is normally wasted on an unworthy recipient, as is the case with Georgette and her infatuation with the vicious hoodlum Vinnie. And yet their self-absorption only serves to make them miserable; they seem as incapable of happiness as they do of any other positive emotion. The few exceptions, such as the womanising “cool cat” Abe, only seem able to achieve happiness at the expense of others.

An uncompromising look at the seamy side of life is not always an honest one if it gives us an incomplete view of humanity. And because vice is defined in opposition to virtue, just as light is defined as the absence of dark, any attempt to show us one without the other must necessarily be incomplete.
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on 6 December 2013
I bought this as I found not only the book description but the reviews provoking.
Not to be, I just could not get to grips with the way the wording and language nor the plot...I think you'll either love or hate this!
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on 11 March 2017
Selby's cult novel is a harrowing portrayal of life at the margins in post-WWII New York. The stream-of-consciousness style and graphic scenes of violence and loveless sex make for a challenging literary experience, but if you're up for that - plus a multi-character plot that breaks most of the 'rules' - it's a fascinating read. You might want to take a shower afterwards, though.
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