Spike contributor Thierry Brunet just dropped me a line about It/ll Be Better Tomorrow, the site dedicated to Michael W. Dean’s film about Hubert Selby, Jr. (Read Thierry’s Spike interview with Selby). It’s just over a year since Selby passed away and Dean is finishing up the movie – the site offers a trailer and lots of interviews and pictures with Selby and his associates over the years. I can’t wait to see this.
Selby is one of those great lost writers, buried under the sensationalist weight that surrounded the obscenity trial for Last Exit To Brooklyn, that needs to be rediscovered again. The Room is possibly the most powerful novel I’ve ever read, insofar as its physical impact upon me – absolute nausea and fear and dread. I write this without any hint of hyperbole – the book made me physically sick throughout reading it and has remained in my consciousness in the 15 years since: not because it is so revolting but because it utterly captures the essence of desperation and self-loathing at the core of the human condition. I know I make it sound melodramatic, but it’s not. It is such a horrific book because you can sense the truth in every sentence. It’s not written to shock. it’s written as an exploration of the imagination and the interior self that involves no self-censorship.
I just flicked over to the Selby tribute site Exit Wounds and it has this quote on the front page: “Over the years, however, especially in Europe, The Room has come to be recognized as what Selby himself perceives it to be: the most disturbing book ever written, a book that he himself was unable to read again for twenty years after writing it.”
I certainly don’t think I could face reading The Room again. Being 17 when I read it, I didn’t know literature could do that. Now I do know, I don’t think I want to go back there again.
[Sidenote: there's something to be written about extreme books, like The Room and Ballard's Crash: books that have been vilified for the supposed obscenity or extremity of their content but have gone to those lengths for literary/intellectual reasons, rather than prurient ones.]