Drugs and madness, everyone’s favourite things! It’s in the lyrics of the extra bit in that number Julie Andrews sang to the Von Trapp children that ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s true. Bee keeping was probably in there too.
Anyway…we all love Burroughs, but what of those before him?
1. Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey. Essentially Junky for the Georgian period, this long and rather waffling essay (still entertaining though, don’t get me wrong) details the author’s fall into the grip of opium addiction. Made more interesting by the fact that his buddies and fellow hop heads were Byron and Coleridge, I recommend this to anyone with a high concentration level, which I admit wasn’t always me (ooh, squirrels).
2. The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga. Here’s a blog post on the Uruguayan author’s frankly depressing life and possibly the reason his stories frequently include death, madness and murder. Perhaps I’m wrong but I get the feeling his writing is more poetic than the English translation, however I still enjoyed his Mediterranean infused gothic tales.
3. Hunger by Knut Hamsun. The main character in Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun’s turn of the century novel is really hungry. Seriously, that’s the basis of the book, and it’s amazing.
Hamsun wanted to show the fragility of human perception by detailing the ups and downs in a struggling writer’s life. Everything seems hopeful when he’s had a bit of bread, but without it he does and says some very peculiar things, including harassing a young lady as she wanders down the street and almost eating a pencil. It’s much better than I’ve explained here so I suggest getting a copy forthwith.
4. The Young Doctor’s Notebook (or Country Doctor’s Notebook)/Morphine by Mikhail Bulgakov. Frequently paired together, especially since the brilliant adaptation featuring Jon Hamm, this collection of short stories details in naturalistic prose the usually surreal author’s (his other works include The Master and Margarita) time as a country doctor in Russia. Oh, and his raging morphine addiction.
The stories of treating his confused peasant patients are worth it alone (a woman in labour is brought in and the midwives check her vagina only to find lumps of sugar inserted. The baby was overdue and they’d apparently tried to ‘lure it out’). However some of the nightmarish scenarios in Morphine (a fictionalised account, as are all the stories) stay with you. I had no idea morphine withdrawal would really cause terrifying hallucinations, I thought that scene in Trainspotting was just to jazz it up a bit.
He’s a funny and thought provoking writer and I’m now going to search out his other, apparently weirder, works and you probably should too.
Well that’s all I have time for, but be sure to tune in for more exciting updates. In the meantime, here’s a cat saying “Oh Long Johnson.”