Sex, Drugs and Banality.

Tales of Ordinary Madness

By Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski.  Oh Bukowski, why do I love you so?  You’re crude, you continually use the ‘c’ word and throughout your whole book there is a severe lack of capital letters.  Your genius lies in your fascination with the darker side of society.  You books are simple yet complex.  You captivate me.

Bukowski mixes low and high culture in all his books. Grotty sex, alcohol and writing are intermingled with the lives of ordinary people.  For example, he takes one alcoholic, middle-aged, unkempt man who walks around bare- footed in his own living room treading on broken glass from smashed beer bottles and uncompromisingly delves into his mind.  His personality, how he thinks, how he relates to society and how he is expected to behave in ‘civilised society’ is exposed.  It makes us uncomfortable, fascinated and empathetic, but you also find yourself nodding in semi-agreement with this beer-swilling layabout.

His rants and raves have a fundamental truth; we can understand his comments on society, on politics, on work, on life and the banality of the 9-5.  He holds a mirror up to us on everyday comments, ‘“a good day’s work for a good day’s pay.”’ P189, and ‘”we are not informed as to what is going on, we don’t have the real answers.  we must trust our leaders.”’ P188.  In each of his tales, in each of his men and occasionally women, we are offered more “madness”.

Writing is an important component in Bukowski’s tales.  A lot of the focus is on himself, his writing and his poetry readings whilst commenting on other writers too; the “high culture” of his work contrasts with the “low culture” of his everyday life.   Henri Chinaski is a recurring character in his books and it has been said that Bukowski and Chinaski are one and the same, ‘I began, “My name’s Chinaski.  First poem is called…” After 3 or 4 poems I began to hit the thermos.  People were laughing.  I didn’t care at what.  I hit the thermos some more, began to relax.’ P40.  Similarities have been made between the lives of these two men.

I love Bukowski. I love his passion and his uncompromising voice.  But I have only skimmed the surface of his work here and only given a brief outline to allow you go off and explore the dark and realistic world of Charles Bukowski for yourself.  Be warned, it’s not for children and it’s not a comfortable read, but it is worthwhile and strangely captivating.  Even if you don’t like the content, as a writer (if you are one) the style will give you something to get your teeth into.  A writer who can’t write?  Some may question.

A little extra:

The Laughing Heart

Your life is your life

Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

Be on the watch.

There are ways out.

There is a light somewhere.

It may not be much light but

It beats the darkness.

Be on the watch.

The gods will offer you chances.

Know them.

Take them.

You can’t beat death but

You can beat death in life, sometimes.

And the more often you learn to do it,

The more light there will be.

Your life is your life.

Know it while you have it.

You are marvellous

The gods wait to delight

In you.

— By Charles Bukowski

If you want it hear it being read (I recommend you do) then listen to:

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