I don’t know about all of you but there are some authors that I am always rather intimidated by their name and their reputation. There is no reasoning behind it as you yourself have never read a word you have just heard mumblings that they could be an author difficult to get to grips with or digest or somehow for some unknown reason you have simply created this illusion in your head. William S. Burroughs is one such author for me (thought there are a few) and so when I saw ‘Queer’ on the shelves in the library and how short and manageable I thought ‘well why not?’
‘Queer’ is actually labelled as a love story which is maybe not quite what I would call it, I think a one sided tale of unrequited love might be a more apt description. This is an account of William Lee, who has fled America and is living amongst the expatriates, and his initial chasing and seduction of Eugene Allerton set in Mexico City in the late 1940’s. A time when homosexuality was frowned upon in many circles, and indeed still was which caused the book to remain unpublished for many years as it was deemed to deal with subjects people would not care to read about not should they.
From the moment Lee spots Allerton it is a case of love at first sight though our former heroin addict protagonist can’t quite see it at first. He starts to ask around about Allerton and even starts turning up at the ‘Ship Ahoy’ so he can accidentally bump into him and see what his views are on ‘queers’. Eventually Allerton succumbs to Lee and is seduced however Allerton is a confused soul and one who might just do almost anything to get what he wants. We then follow Lee and Allerton through the resulting games that are played in a case of almost obsessive one sided love and the agonies that can be suffered from such events.
I found this book wasn’t what I expected of Burroughs at all. The writing wasn’t complex or trying to catch me out, it was written with economy and yet all of it packed a punch. Many people actually say this novel is quite autobiographical and that Lee is of course Burroughs and Allerton on a man Burroughs befriended called Marker when he was in Mexico himself which is maybe why the book is so emotionally wrought and filled witha hint of bitterness and anger. I will admit there are a lot of random monologues that don’t always quite make sense and last a page, maybe two, yet it all worked with me.
‘Queer’ is a book that leaves you wanting to know much more and had me slightly annoyed that I hadn’t read it along with several other people so that I could have a really good natter about it afterwards. You could also natter about the introduction which Burroughs wrote himself about the shocking events that happened which made him want to write the book as some kind of therapy. It is a small book which packs rather a large wallop and leaves you wanting to know more, as luck should have it this is actually the sequel to ‘Junky’ and Lee appears in some of Burroughs later works so I will definitely be reading more.
Has anyone else read this or any other Burroughs? Which authors have you wanted to try but have been put off from for worry of their reputation? Have you conquered any authors that you never thought you would and were they much easier than expected or just the trial you had been dreading? I think Bolano might be my next as he intimidates me from name alone and maybe one day I will try something by him. This reading of Burroughs has certainly made me want to try more authors I didn’t think I could.