Book Review: “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs (3 Stars)

01 Sep

A mad trip into the tattered drift of subconscious undercurrents.

Written in a “cut up” style this is one of the most non-linear books I’ve ever read. The author sets forth a series of disjointed vignettes he aptly calls “routines,” which I also found fitting. This book is designed so that you can jump in at any point and not be lost, which is to say you will be just as lost as you would be anywhere else. Narrative? Naw….

The routines in the book involve sadism and the bent thoughts of a junky’s subconscious flow of thought. Reality and perception of mind all seem to bend into each other. The way this book was written, make it difficult for me to recall much except for a pervasive mood and fragments of sarcastic witticism that sometimes played out in strange scenes of ultra violence (e.g. a plunger used in a surgical procedure-a toilet plunger…).

The strength in Burroughs’ writing is his biting satire and irony. He takes a salacious slant on the culture, right from the bowels of the counter culture. Some of the material in here made me laugh outright, and other times I cringed. This is definitely not just a book you casually read. You have to gear up for it. The content is not for those easily offended (this was the last piece of written word subjected to federal obscenity laws in the United States—it prevailed).

Burroughs was a known heroin addict and wrote this work after causing the death of his wife, and living life somewhat on the lam as he sought the sour comfort of illicit dealings in foreign lands. When he finally came to some kind of reckoning with what he had done, he managed to clean himself up (though I believe he continued to struggle with drugs), he wrote this book. Some of the book is about drugs (junk), some of it is caught up in science fiction elements (telepathic thought control), and some is almost like a political cartoon strip.

Later in life, Burroughs got more political and made a name for himself giving spoken word performances. There are hints of this buried in the smoky riffs. Little laughable nuggets of wit.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website (

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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Book Reviews


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