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A compassionate writer who truly understood addiction

from The Guardian UK

Treasuring Hubert Selby Jr

The author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream was a compassionate writer who truly understood addiction

Writer Hubert Selby Jnr
‘His experience as an addict fuelled his creativity’ … Hubert Selby Jr in 1990. Photograph: KC Bailey/AP

For many non-academic readers, Frank Kermode, who died aged 90 last month, is perhaps best known for his spirited defence of Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, at the obscenity trial surrounding it in 1966. According to the Daily Mail, observers described his appearance as “more [like] a Reith lecture than an investigation into alleged obscenity”In the foreword to the book’s post-trial edition, written by the original publishers, John Calder and Marion Boyars, we are told that Kermode analysed the novel chapter by chapter, placing it firmly in “the tradition of American naturalistic literature, which … had developed from writers like Zola and Dickens”. Selby died in 2004, having suffered from ill health for most of his life. Although he wrote six novels and a collection of short stories, he is widely known only for Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream (made into a film by Darren Aronofsky in 2000). Since his death, and in spite of plaudits from Kermode, Anthony Burgess and Lou Reed, among many others, there has so far been little popular or critical reappraisal of his work. This is a shame. Selby should be regarded alongside Philip Roth and Norman Mailer as one of the great American novelists, and one who has helped us to understand the nature of addiction and the human condition better, perhaps, than any other.

A successor to Jean Genet, Jack Kerouac, John Fante and Charles Bukowski, Selby’s influence can be detected in the work of modern writers including Richard Price, Irvine Welsh, James Frey and more recently Tony O’Neill and Richard Millward. In tracing Selby’s lineage, Kermode highlighted the deep compassion of this remarkable writer. Able to humanise addiction and to demonstrate how it is exacerbated by the consumerist motors of television and advertising, Selby is a novelist whose insight and humanity we should treasure for a long time to come.

[ read full article at The Guardian UK ]

Posted on September 17, 2010 by Editor

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