on 19 July 1999
Another Selby classic, about two friends who decide it's time they carved themselves a slice of the American Dream. They work hard, stay sober and earn enough to buy a large amount of high grade drugs. As dealers, they enjoy unlimited success, but as they start to dabble, they lose their money, their livelihoods and their souls. And as for the poor women in their lives ... Less gut-churning than Selby's nastier work, this is a great book to start out with if you're new to him, with charcters you can feel for. It's a grim piece of work - all of Selby's books are - but it's also unforgettable. Buy it today and you'll thank yourself forever.
on 14 October 2005
Selby's 'RFAD' follows the stories of four dreamers. Harry, Tyrone and Marion are small time drug users who dream of escaping their lives by accruing money from drug deals until they have enough to escape the streets forever. They are all determined to avoid the fates of other users. Sara, Harry's ageing mother, is on a shortlist to appear on TV and dreams of wearing her favourite red dress, now several sizes too small. Nothing helps her lose weight until she goes to a doctor who prescribes 'diet pills' (in reality a mixture of amphetamines and downers), which slowly take over her life. The drugs, originally a means to an end for all the characters, become the end in themselves, sounding the requiem for all their dreams.
'RFAD' is a book about hope, and how drugs can both give it and take it away from you. Harry and Marion use drugs to feel good but it is their dreams that keep them going. Sara is lonely, sad and old, and the promise of TV (her fix) gives her a reason to go on living. The pills give her hope that she will look good when she gets there. Selby brilliantly builds up their stories, and the way in which the drugs take on gradually more and more importance in their lives is very subtly done. At no point does he moralise about the evils (or otherwise) of drugs, he just lets the stories unfold. The contrast between Harry, Marion, Tyrone and Sara's lives at the start of the book and the end is harrowing, as their existences become more drug dependent and more horrific.
'RFAD' is one of the most brutal and harrowing books I have ever read. I found Sara's story very disturbing and particularly well told. Selby uses a mix of fluid prose and dialect to keep the story moving along quickly. It is a fairly short book, but is unrelentingly grim. If you are looking for a nice story with a happy ending, definitely go elsewhere. It is also riddled with explicit sex and drug usage, so won't be everyone's cup of tea. It is, however, a brilliantly executed, brutal, upsetting and harrowing piece of writing that deserves to be widely read.
on 19 August 2002
You might have seen the brilliant Darren Aronofsky film adaptation and wondered what the book is like. Short answer, genius. It is written in Selby's phonetic style which may take some people a while to get used to. The book takes a while to get warmed up as Selby likes to show the good times in summer before the winter destruction. It is amazing to read something so brilliantly written and so powerfully negative. An immensely thought-provoking novel about addiction and degeneration. The book is probably on a par with the film that followed over 20 years after it was written.
on 1 August 2010
The movie "Requiem for a Dream" by Aronofsky has been a favourite of mine practically since it came out, but it wasn't until recently that I took the time to read the book. The book is filled with many of those aspects of humanity which are intuitively understood but hard to explain. It concerns itself with real people, people with fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams and that particular trait of understanding real closeness, realizing its absence and the consequent weltschmertz and yet also a drive to obtain that which is missed in spite of the difficulties.
The book manages to convey an immense amount of life in very few pages. I give it my highest recommendation. This is a work of art.
There are four key characters in `Requiem for a Dream': Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow who spends her days watching television and eating chocolate; her son Harry; Harry's friend Tyrone C. Love and Harry's girlfriend Marion. These four lead us through the depths and despair of addiction.
As the story opens, it's summer in New York City and Harry and Tyrone take Sara's television to the pawn shop. They need the money for drugs. Sara gets her television back - not for the first time - and the reader starts to wonder what will happen next. Sara eats her chocolates, watches television, and worries (sometimes) about Harry. She is lonely without Seymour (her late husband). And then, Sara's phone rings:
`Mrs Goldfarb, this is Lyle Russel of the McDick Corporation.'
Lyle Russel is looking for contestants in game shows and tells Sara that all she needs to do to have a chance to appear on television is fill in a questionnaire. Sara is excited by this, and decides to try to look her best - by losing some weight. Tyrone and Harry are dreaming of getting rich enough to retire: a pound of pure heroin should do it. Tyrone and Harry earn enough money to purchase some drugs and start dealing to people they know. And as the money flows in, Marion and Harry dream of opening a business of their own one day. Elusive things, dreams.
`It wasn't that they couldn't stop using, it was just that this wasn't the time. They had too much to do and they weren't feeling well.'
Time passes, winter arrives, and things start to come apart. Sara's diet hasn't been successful, but one of her neighbours recommends a doctor who prescribes diet pills. Sara becomes addicted, and the McDick Corporation still hasn't contacted her. Meantime, Harry, Tyrone and Marion's heroin supply dries up just as their need becomes greater. And as Harry, Tyrone and Marion become increasingly more desperate for heroin, their dreams disappear and they sink to new depths. No, the consequences of addiction can't happen to them.
`But that woman - I have told you I don't care about that woman. Even if you are correct in your diagnosis and assumptions, the worst that can happen is that she will have a few unnecessary shock treatments.'
It's Sara I feel sorriest for. She is not aware of the dangers of the diet pills, and by the time help is sought the only doctor who tries to treat her as an individual is overridden by other doctors who see symptoms rather than a person. Sara becomes trapped. The other three each face different consequences. There are no happy endings here.
`And let me remind you of something doctor ... harmony breeds efficiency. Good morning.'
This is a difficult novel to read, both because of the stream of consciousness style of writing and the painful depiction of addiction and its consequences. Each of the characters is chasing a dream, an illusion and each will be disappointed. The reader can see it happening, can feel the pain at times, but can do nothing to intervene. It's unsettling, and it's hard to put down this story and walk away.
on 8 January 2011
Finished the book last week and I am still thinking about it. The book graphically documents the lives of 4 connected characters who use drugs. My only negative is that the book is written in a very unusual manner, with conversations flowing with little pauses, which does take a while to get used to. Some of the descriptions of the heroin use can be very graphic, so I would not reccomend to the very squemish
on 24 May 2014
After watching the film, I ordered this book (because the books are always better than the film, and the film is brilliant).
I was new to Selby Jr but I'm now working my way through all of his books - I loved every one so far. This and The Demon are my top two as of yet.
However I feel like some of this novel was lost on me as I had already seen the film and therefore knew the plot :(
I wish I couldve read the book before the film, but then I may never have come across such a fantastic author...
If you get the chance, definitely read this before seeing the film!!!
on 26 April 2015
At first, I found this book almost impossible to read. It's not everyday you pick up a book with a complete lack of any normal writing structure. I actually gave up reading it for a while.
A couple months later I picked the book back up, and somehow, the story gradually began to flow off the page and into my head. It really is an incredible story, and the writing style is so unique.
on 7 October 2013
This novel gets off to a terrific start and I was quickly hooked by the distinctive writing style, so different from anything else I've read. Even though the stream-of-consciousness style is similar in some respects to the more experimental writing of Faulkner and Joyce et al, the crazy mingling of dialogue and prose and tenses and viewpoint seemed altogether new and daring, as did the mundane subject matter of addicted losers struggling with the failure of their own American dreams. The two strands of the same story -- Harry's addiction to drugs and his mother's addiction to food and TV -- are both funny and sad. So far, so good.
The problem is that nothing much actually happens, which in a sense is part of the point. After a while, the sameness of what little action there is, and the repetitive nature of the drug-crazed dialogue, starts to lose its freshness, and hence its appeal.
However brilliant a piece of writing might be, if you read the same thing over and over again it's bound to become tedious, and this is what I found with this book. It doesn't help that the four main characters are all hopeless losers, as is made clear from the beginning, and as such we already suspect that their dreams will come to nothing.
Another problem for me was that the crazy writing style, with its stream of words rapidly spouting forth -- once the novelty wears off it becomes just plain awkward to read, especially the lack of quote marks and paragraph breaks, with page after page of dense uninterrupted text.
On the plus side, things start to hot up a bit around page 170, when we get more action (even if it's a depressing kind of action).
I can understand why this novel has become a classic of its kind; an ultra-realistic portrayal of the dark side of America and its unfulfilled promises, but I can understand also why it has never been a big seller (the publisher gives this away when the only praise they can find to splash across the cover is from Lou Reed saying, `If you read this, be careful ...' -- hardly the most enthusiastic endorsement ever.)
It's worth a try though, if you can take the bleakness.
on 16 December 2013
I suppose it's a bit of a strange thing to 'like' Requiem for a Dream, novel and film adaptation alike. It is of course a harrowing story about the consequences of drug addiction.
Unfortunately, I watched the film before reading the book. I say unfortunately not because the film is a bad one. In fact, it's one of my favourite films of all time. It was unfortunate because the book is even better than the film that followed, with more layers to the characters.
That's not to say that Aronofsky's adaptation is an example of surface over substance. Whilst it's true that as an Amazon reviewer brilliantly described, the film is an 'assault on the senses', it is still a tragedy, just like the book. The problem I have is with film in general, in that you only have around 165 minutes max, or in this case, 100, to get to the depths of a character.
Because whilst Requiem for a Dream has been described as the ultimate anti-drugs advert, I would argue that where the novel succeeds even more than the film is that it is also a story about dreams, and in particular, misplaced ones.
Indeed, whilst reading Hubert Selby's story, I was reminded several times of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. In the classic novel, Jay Gatsby is always brooding over the 'green light', which is a symbol of his love for the careless Daisy Buchanan.
Sara Goldfarb's misplaced dream is to be on television. As a widow and a mother of a son, Harry, who is more interested in get rich quick schemes than tending to his increasingly isolated parent, Sara's only stimulation is her television. The television is the centre of her universe, with her watching game shows fanatically, looking up to those who appear on them.
The characters in this novel are so rich that it makes me cringe to mention something as clinical as a 'message', but I do think Selby was trying to say something about television. Published thirty-five years ago, this message seems even more relevant today, considering the large section of the public obsessed with vacuous reality television and talent shows.
Harry's false dream, along with best friend Tyrone, is to get rich quick. Early on in the book, Harry talks with girlfriend Marion about opening a café franchise. He appears to be serious about the idea, but as his heroin addiction starts to take hold, he neglects it, instead preferring to chase a quick buck by stashing drugs and selling them off at a high price when the street supply is short.
Ultimately, Harry ends up being responsible for the misery of both his mother and his girlfriend, becoming so desperate for a fix that he encourages Marion into prostitution. The irony of course is that Harry had everything he needed at the beginning of the novel: his mother's and his girlfriend's love. If only he had been less self-centred, then the fates of his mother and his girlfriend would have been much happier ones.
After reading the novel, I would still describe Requiem as a tragedy, but I would argue that it is more about the tragedy of misplaced dreams than the one of drug addiction. In this case, misplaced dreams do lead to addiction, but I think we can all relate to the idea of having wasted time chasing something we didn't need in the first place.
Much like with the film, anyone who reads this novel would be put off taking drugs for life, but at its essence, this story is more than about the terrible consequences of addiction. It's also about people failing to appreciate what they have. Namely, we are talking about relationships, which Harry should have realised provide more warmth in life than heroin ever can.
Requiem is a brilliant novel, up there in terms of its grittiness and relevance with the likes of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. A must read.