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on 23 July 2017
Well you've got to start somewhere if you want to see what all the fuss is about. This book has less sex and eroticised hangings and murderous cowboys than the later stuff, and is perhaps consequently more readable (!!) than the later stuff too. Joking aside, a proper modern classic, and all praise to Brion Gysin and others in the cut-up world who helped too.
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on 16 September 2017
So good I may do as Will Self did and become a heroin addict.
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on 29 June 2017
Read Junky and loved it but this I just can't get into. I'm not engaged at all and find it quite boring.
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on 6 May 2013
this book was the game changer, one of the most vital and original works of the previous century, the 'ramones 1st album' of literature, in my opinion, the best book ever written. and yet it was never finished, the order of pieces decided by ginsberg and kerouac, and no publisher would touch it for years. it is not important that you love it or hate it, only that you read it. it is not important that you understand it, only that you experience it. it is entirely a unique piece - even amongst burroughs' considerable body of work, and the prose within is unmatchable by any other author. once read, never forgotten. this edition is well considered and comprehensive, and means thst i can now preserve my overworked paper editions. it should perhaps be noted that repeated readings can increase and expand your appreciation.
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on 13 July 2008
I read Burroughs first when I was in my teens. The homosexuality was just like reading about the sex-life of Martians or something; his whole world was so bizarre that it just seemed like part of his freak show - I thought he was just trying to be as disgusting as possible. But that's not the point about Burroughs - if you can get hold of any recordings of Burroughs reading from the Naked Lunch, or the Soft Machine, the Ticket that Exploded, or Nova Express, you'll 'get it' more - it's a sort of beat poetry, stunningly inventive, imaginative and hilarious, if patchy. A lot of fuss is made about his 'cut up technique', which is just the equivalent of scrap iron or turds in art galleries - pretentious drivel. But actually, it throws up some interesting effects when he uses it on his own stuff. You'd have to read the first four novels in a row to appreciate that - Don't worry, he only uses it here and there. I don't think he uses cut-up in this one though, which makes it an easier read than the others.
The Naked Lunch would be enough to be going on with for most people, though. David Cronenberg's film is great, and as good a stab at it as you could get, but it's really only a few selected scenes and themes from all his books and his life - great but not the book.

Don't expect a straightforward story, but there are recurring themes and threads, that sort of link it all together. It was apparently written in Tangier, in installments which he then posted to Allan Ginsberg, as 'reports from Interzone', just for his own amusement. Ginsberg persuaded him to publish it all. That was the story a while back. I daresay this new edition will have some new insight on all that.
As to the substance: consider when the Naked Lunch was written, and what he was writing about, and what others were writing about at the time. It's not the homosexuality that's the point, or even remarkable. While everyone else was writing about the 'cold war', he was writing about the expansion of the drug-trade, and the symbiotic and parasitic expansion of law enforcement to parallel it, using heroin as a metaphor for all sorts of parasitic political and economic forces that insinuate themselves into the human world and deliberately create a dependence, and behind them the alien, child-sacrificing Mugwumps, and the Heavy Metal Kids, alien lizards from a high density world, with all their scams and projects, like 'the Oven Gang' (the nazis). Burroughs is sometimes credited with introducing 'heavy metal' into the vocabulary, but encountered other stories about that.
I haven't read it for a while so I can only give some hints off the top of my head, but I disagree with those who say Burroughs is someone who you read when young and never revisit - he gets better with age. The Naked Lunch is a remarkable work, and a remarkable prophecy which is getting truer by the day, unfortunately - 'the moment when everyone sees what's on the end of every fork'! The most inspired and bizarre science fiction ever!
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on 31 March 2017
I read this book when I was young and admired it. I've just read it again, 40 years later, and I think it's appalling. I could hardly bear to turn the pages. Perhaps I read an abridged version before because I don't remember the buggery of young boys, nor the decadence of the drug-taking. Skipped through the pages to the end.
Freak Out!: My Life With Frank Zappa
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on 6 November 2015
I would suggest finding another version. The editing seems to be quite disjointed and that combined with the vernacular of the dialogue, which does help portray a realism of the setting, can make for a difficult read
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on 30 December 2003
Imagine you were able to recall all the weird dreams and nightmares you ever had in clear, vivid detail; taking in sights, smells, feelings, and those odd moments when the dream changes completely, but still - inconceivably, but somehow rationally - connected to the events of the moment before. Imagine you are a hopeless heroin addict, having sleeping and waking dreams compounded by an addict's hallucinations and paranoid excursions, often perceiving things through a trancelike psychosis. Imagine you have a pen in your hand. You've imagined William Burroughs disturbed, distorted and dreamlike prose. You've imagined what Naked Lunch would look and sound like.
That's my take on this almost impenetrable novel. It's fairly short by today's standards, but like old fashioned toffee - extremely chewy, time consuming and ultimately frustrating in all but small chunks. If the Naked Chef stripped down recipes to their bare essentials, then Naked Lunch is the complete opposite; a gorge-fest of dense, lyrical prose and vivid images melded together to form a collage around the subjects of addiction, sexual fascination and satire of the medical profession.
I gather this book doesn't employ the cut'n'paste narrative experiments of his later work, because with this book there is no coherent narrative. Yes, you could take any of these pages and put them pretty much anywhere and they would still make as much sense. But the cut up method implies a structured (but merely fragmented) narrative as many of us would know it. Naked Lunch is not like this. It is more random, flicking off onto tangents, as dreams do.
Does the sum of these Frankenstein parts add up to a meaningful whole? Well, that depends on what you enjoy in a book. If you enjoy prose loaded with lyrical dexterity, lurid images and simile; constant bemusement, and re-reading sentences because they seem unrelated to each other, with unconnected thoughts and images from one moment to the next - you may enjoy this book. Burroughs has a way with images, if nothing else. But if you are used to more conventional writing and narrative - a story even - then, like me, you may find it a frustrating experience. If James Joyce was a junkie, he would probably have written something like Naked Lunch first.
But I could not leave it alone, and persevered in small portions. The writing is intriguing and the images fascinating, but I was only 2-3 pages in when I wondered when the weirdness would stop and a book would begin. Maybe that is the triumph of Burroughs' work, that many will read it in spite of its avant garde nature. For those who find it heavy going, 'Junky', written earlier, may help. It foreshadows the style and experiences employed in Naked Lunch, but has a conventional narrative and gives some useful background to Burroughs' psyche, before he completely tripped out.
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on 20 August 2013
Burroughs is known for his expletive-laden, sexually explicit, crazy and half-nonsensical novels, and Naked Lunch is the best of the best, the novel that catapulted him in to the limelight as the insane writer who created artworks by firing shotgun shells at tins of paint.

Now, I'm not going to bore you with the details and go heavily in to the plot, because quite frankly, half of the time I had no idea what was happening. That's the strange, surreal beauty of Burroughs' work - you can quite easily finish reading a novel and have no understanding of the story-line, you'll just know that you enjoyed it and be filled with the sense of accomplishment that's the reward for finishing a book.

In fact, the opium use and black market drug deals serve as short windows in to the bizarre world that Burroughs' characters occupy - he even said that he wrote it so that the chapters could be read in any order. If you decide to buy it, read it from first to last - it makes it easier to remember where you are.
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on 25 April 2011
I read this 20 years ago and was frustrated by its inability to fit into my conception of a comprehensible novel.Now what was once its greatest flaw seems to be its greatest asset.It is a collage of sometimes grim scenarios peppered with the odd titbit of medical/anthropological/sociological insight and probably literature's first attempt at abstract impressionism.
Obviously not for people with conservative tastes or delicate sensibilities.
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