It’s safe to say that ‘Last Exit’ is not like anything you’ve ever read before. Structurally, grammatically it goes against anything you’ve ever read before. Speech marks are dispensed with and conversations, such as they are, run into one another so you are unsure who is speaking. The rhythm of the language is paramount. Shelby expertly captures the speech patterns and linguistic nuances of the various characters with words you have to read aloud to understand.
The characters are for the most part the most thoroughly desperate, despicable, vile bunch ever created. They all seem to be clamouring for something that is not there, love, attention, romance, happiness. Whatever it is Selby makes sure they don’t get it.
Two of the most memorable Harry Black , the strike leader and Tralala the prostitute come to particularly grisly ends. Harry has just come to terms with his sexuality and seems to have found happiness, of sorts, when Selby tears it away in an instant. Tralala is left for dead by her cackling and mocking ‘friends ‘ after a horrific experience.
This world is not for the faint hearted. It is callous and brutal. There is no happy ending. It is inhabited by lying, cheating, self centred, amoral monsters. But what makes it more disturbing is that you can sense that it is real. These characters existed then and they exist now. The world Selby has painted is one that is played out around the world wherever people are trapped and strive to escape but hopelessness drags them back time and time again.
Did I enjoy it ? Yes, to an extent. Would I read anything else by Selby? Hmmm, not sure. By all accounts ‘Last Exit’ is pretty upbeat compared to ‘The Room’ and others. I love his writing style and his characters not so much the lack of structured storyline…so we’ll see. Watch this space whydoncha.