Monday, 1 November 2010

Pulp - Bukowski

A bigger Bukowski expert than me says fans don’t rate this final work much, well that’s their mistake. Although I’ve not read him for years it’s obvious that ‘Pulp’ still contains the core of what he was all about and the (low)lifestyle he described. What better conduit to finally choose than pulp fiction, the one that has offered us more losers, lowlifes and desperadoes than any other?
   The biggest surprise here is the fantasy element, about which I’ll say little other than that it involves ‘space aliens’. Apart from anything else, a book ‘Dedicated to bad writing’ instantly gets my vote. I once wrote a piece about ‘bad writing’. I think I was justifying my ineptness, but anyway, is Bukowski mocking those who consider all Pulp fiction to be ‘bad’ compared to ‘literature’? I like to think so.
   Our hero has multiple cases to crack, one being to track down Celine, yes, the writer, who stalks LA bookshops. I love the sheer nerve of that. He’s a drunk, of course, gets in fights in bars, naturally, and generally has all the stereotypical characteristics of a private eye, yet this being Bukowski, it’s a continuum of the man and his work, therefore makes a whole lot more sense and has more credibility than detective novels written by pipe-smoking scholars.
   There are many funny scenes, my favourite being his conversation with the chat line woman. His poetry was already hardboiled, so the prose here must have come naturally, and of course it suits the subject matter perfectly. It’s all cynicism and sorrow, as a good noir novel should be (‘People waited all their lives. They waited to live, they waited to die.’) Was he writing a kind of obituary here, perhaps with the fantastical element hinting that he had considered other possible worlds? A life beyond that which we know? The most obvious point to make is that a character called Lady Death stalks the pages. In one scene her voice comes through the car radio. Is that a reference to Cocteau’s ‘Orpheus’?
   This sits nicely alongside Coover’s ‘Noir’ as another fine example of what can be done with a genre which often suggested that in the shadows there was, perhaps, something more mysterious than just another villain with a gun.

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