Fiction: Women, by Charles Bukowski, Virgin Books, 291 pp. €12.99
“Once a woman turns against you, forget it. They can love you, then something turns in them. They can watch you dying in a gutter, run over by a car, and they’ll spit on you.”
Women (1979) is Charles Bukowski’s third novel and explicitly depicts the highs and lows of Henry Chinaski’s life as a poet, alcoholic and lover. Written in Bukowski’s characteristically brusque style this book allows its readers an insight into the drunken antics, artistic expression and sexual debauchery of Los Angeles in the 1960’s and 70’s.
The main protagonist, Henry Chinaski, is arguably autobiographical although the preface insists that the characters are not “intended to portray any person or combination of persons living or dead.” Despite these assurances it is difficult not to draw parallels between the lives of the two men. In ‘Women’, like in many of Bukowski’s writings, the terse and provocative language insinuates something deeper than fiction.
Henry Chinaski is in his fifties and he writes so he can drink, fornicate and pay the rent. He also writes in an attempt to make sense of his life and the series of unsuccessful relationships that he forms with the continuously revolving carousel of women in his life. Chinaski is constantly struggling for wider literary fame and tours the United States delivering drunken poetry readings in return for payment and an abundance of alcohol.
One of the most poignant moments in the book is when one of Chinaski’s female lovers sculpts his face insisting that she wants to “get this one right”. The jagged ugliness of Chinaski’s physical form allows for something socially repugnant to be artistically celebrated. Chinaski, like Bukowski, is a physical manifestation of his own art. Crude, worn, lived in, ridiculed, judged and undoubtedly enthralling.
The raw and intense language and the explicit description of the female character’s bodies, personalities and the sexual acts they perform are at times misogynistic and offensive. But this reviewer believes in the fine line between offence and art and is confident that Bukowski treads it dangerously but beautifully.
Bukowski’s brutally honest take on life gives the story life and lifts it off the page. Chinaski’s character illuminates the reality of self-destruction and how truly potent a drug it can be. The reader hates him, loves him, admires him and pities him whilst never leaving his side.