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6th October 2014

My Literary Hero: Hubert Selby Jr

Alister Pearson tells you why Hubert Selby is his literary hero after reading Last Exit to Brooklyn

The aspect of Hubert Selby Jr. that I most appreciate is that he was not destined to be a writer, and did not expect to live for long after his diagnosis of advanced tuberculosis in 1947—he was predicted by doctors to only live for one year, and for this reason his 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read.

There is one thing about Selby’s writing in The Last Exit to Brooklyn that should be pointed out: he doesnt use proper grammar or punctuation as Ive tried to illustrate here. His work is similar to that of Jack Kerouac/s in the sense that it has a fast, stream-of-consciousness style. I think it works well with what he tried to set out and create a vividly real portrait of 1950s New York. Annuva characteristic of Selby/s writing is that he will incorporate words joined together like ta getthehell out and yuhgoddamn yankee and he never uses speech marks although much of the novel is of characters speaking to one another and you may think this would be difficult to read but you sorta just get the hangofit and then you dont even notice that the sentence youre reading has been goin on for pages and pages but when you do start to notice the tension builds up like in the story Tralala the ending is just one long sentence that stretches out for pages and pages but you find yaself reading it faster and faster as it gets more and more intense as a fifteen-year-old girl is gang raped by fifty plus men for you see Selby/s work is some of the most graphic pieces of work you will read and he doesnt hold back with the language or the imagery with stories about transvestites or queens as he calls them and hard drug abuse and gangs beating tha crap outta people because Selby wants to portray the real side of Brooklyn in those times much like Lou Reed did in his music making it no surprise that Selby/s book was a big inspiration for him but I personally think Selby had little choice but to write like he did in this book as he had no qualifications and was quite unwell due to the tuberculosis making any job he could get extremely difficult so writing was a last resort for him but he was spurred on by the fact that he knew he was living a finite life and he didnt wantto look back on it and regret it and I hope he did look back on his life and feel proud cause Last Exit to Brooklyn was such a fascinating portrayal of a New York to read that not many know about and although it is brutal, it is not the case that Selby has no sympathy for his characters as there are moments when the reader feels great sympathy like when Georgette gets beat up by her brother for dressing in drag or when Harry loses his job at the union and thus, in my opinion, Selby earns the right to be mentioned alongside the great Beat writers like Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg who actually praised the book but unfortunately this didnt stop the book from being temporarily banned in Great Britain and Italy due to its extremely graphic images but after help from Anthony Burgess who suffered similar problems with his novel Clockwork Orange the decision was reversed.


Selby wrote many more books until his death in 2006, most notably Requiem For A Dream, which was made into a film starring Jared Leto in 2000. However, it is Last Exit to Brooklyn that stands out for me as one of the best books written in the 20th Century if only for the fact that it dares to depict a sinisterly real New York.


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