By Luciana Leitão
At times, it seems you’re reading a pornographic novel, given the graphic details. But then you realise you’re taking a sneak peek of the intimate life of the author himself. And then you feel a bit sad, a bit sorry, a bit disconcerted by the inability of the character — and the author — to feel more than temporary fulfilment. Women, by Charles Bukowski, features his semi-autobiographical character Henry Chinaski.
Throughout the book, you’re taken into an alcohol and sex driven environment, in which the author describes an almost intolerable realistic view of his own experiences. The main character is, of course, a writer — a poet and compulsive drinker — who, given his fame, manages to attract women, luring them into a decadent cycle.
Bukowski is widely perceived as one the members of the Beat generation — even though the author himself has always refused such epithet — a leading literary movement in the United States, which explored and influenced American culture in the post-World War II era. Experimentation with psychedelic drugs, sexual liberation and exploration, non-conformity are some of the core elements of the Beat culture. In the novel Women, you’re taken into the literary encounters, debates and public poetry reading sessions’ environment along with the incessant search for hedonism, through alcohol, sex and drugs, leading you right inside the Beat generation.
Bukowski’s novel is about women. His obsession with having many women. His inability to think beyond short-term pleasure. His dissatisfaction with the many women he encounters. As a reader, I felt revolt and disgust at the beginning, later turned into sadness, as the novel evolve into an auto-critical satire.
The 1978 novel features real life characters, who passed by the author’s life. Lydia Vance (character) is the sculptress and poet Linda King; Tanya (character) wrote a book under the pseudonym Amber O’Neil called Blowing My Hero, about her affair with Bukowski; and Sara (in the novel) is Linda Lee Beighle, whom the author later married and remained married until his death.
Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920, but grew up in Los Angeles, where he lived for 50 years. He is most likely one of the most influential American poets of all times. His novel Women is definitely worth the read, as it is a disconcerting and provocative view of the reality, making you feel so many things at the same time. Good books are supposed to shake. This is one of those.