Take Ripley Bogle for example. In many ways, it's a fairly pointless tale (especially when the ending appears) and it really doesn't go anywhere. The only reason you kept on reading was because the narrator was such an intriguing character, you thought he knew more than you. Hence why you felt that sense of disappointment at the end.
Something Lydia Lunch never does.
Since the late 70's, Lydia Lunch has terrorised stages (both musical and literary) with her worldview. From Teenage Jesus and the Jerk's No Wave/anti music stylings through her various collaborations with Sonic Youth, Big Sexy Noise, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave and her own solo records that veer from dark jazz, spoken word, industrial and post punk, Lydia plows her own furrow.
Paradoxia, her third novel (discounting various collaborations) is the one most indebted to Hubert Selby Jr whose Last Exit to Brooklyn has been reviewed by me on this site due to the fetid, sleazy settings of pre Giuliani New York and the various characters who seem victims of their own circumstances. But what Lydia does here is take out the Christian outlook that Selby Jr had for his characters, ramps up the nihilism and inserts a narrator (based on herself) that isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a victim.
The opening paragraph lets us know what we're in for:
So twisted by men, a man, my father, that I became like one, Everything I adored about them, they despised in me. Ruthlessness, arrogance, stubbornness, distance and cruelty...Never able to acknowledge the repercussions of my behaviour. Oblivious to the brutality and selfishness with which I would lacerate others.
This is not the voice of someone who is looking for recognition or sympathy. This is an unapologetic voice who will do whatever it takes to look after herself and also see that she is thoroughly indulged. As an "abandon hope all ye who enter here" moment, it's staccato voice is both seductive and alienating.
Quite a feat, I'm sure you'll agree.
There really isn't much of a plot to the book, it just follows the misadventures of the narrator and her worldview. So all we're left with this is this admitted 'predator', who sells drugs, uses herself (and allows herself to be used) for her own gain and seems to get through with nary a scratch on her. All while viewing the world through nihilistic eyes; the strong survive. The weak? Killed.
The squalor depicted throughout is filthier than a junkie's arsecrack. Going down this route, especially with an unconventional narrator, can seriously alienate the average reader. And this is where that particular type of reader goes wrong. People like that are ones who enjoy reading crime novels, usually involving a detective with a "past", as they attempt to solve a murder. And there's nothing at all wrong with that. But it's a safe vehicle for such readers as it keeps them on the side of law and order. Whereas books like Paradoxia go that much further. Into a world where there is no protection if anything goes wrong. A world where wits and luck are needed to survive.
And the idea of a narrator who doesn't just comment dispassionately on this life, but embraces it wholeheartedly, is anathema to these readers. Maybe they don't want to know about what really lies outside when they're at work or fast asleep. Maybe they don't want the temptation.
Go into this with little expectations and find yourself needing to bathe in Clorox afterwards. That's how real this book is.
Lydia Lunch, 1997, Paradoxia: A Predator's Diary, Akashic Books, ISBN-13: 978-1933354354
➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212