by Hubert Selby Jr.
ISBN 978 0 141 19566 7, first published in 1979, buy it on Amazon.
I genuinely had no idea what to expect when I started reading Requiem for a Dream (1979). I, embarrassingly, didn’t even know what requiem meant (‘requiem’ has a number of meanings; (1) a Mass for repose of the souls of the dead and (2) an act or token of remembrance, in case you were wondering). But, looking back now, Requiem for a Dream is the perfect title for this story. I’m sure somebody somewhere has analysed it in minute detail.
The front cover of this edition was clearly two people making love. Ok, I thought, it’ll be about love or lust or desire, or something along those lines. A quote, by Lou Reed, on said cover was ‘If you read this, be careful…’ – well, I thought , beware of the power of lust?
Well, was I wrong.
The novel follows mother Sara Goldferb and her son, Harry. Sara’s husband Seymour died tragically and she now spends her days eating uncompromisingly and living vicariously through the television.
That is, when Harry hasn’t pawned her blessed TV for drug money.
It was this unapologetic introduction, at the very beginning, of drugs that made me skeptical. Clearly, I’m a prude/live a very boring life. Drugs don’t interest me, they never will, and books about drugs – even less so. But, I persevered with the book and found myself engrossed in it.
The writing was erratic. It gave the impression of being on, and experiencing drugs. The rhythm of reading was at once, slow and casual and insane, and lacking control. I liked it.
I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of Sara and Harry. How both of them were on drugs, both of them alone, unaware of the other’s misery. I felt myself feeling excruciatingly sorry for her character – she was pathetic, but yet, I liked her and her humour, when it was allowed to show.
Initially, I did think to myself, ‘why am I reading this book?’ but slowly, a story emerged. Not one of aimless drug-taking. Instead it was a story of institutional injustice, wrongdoing, ambition, passion, and yes, both the highs and very real lows of drugs (both legal and illegal).
This novel also had one of the most perpetually sad endings I have ever read.
Lou Reed was right: you should be careful when you read this book.
It is haunting.
Recommended for: Anyone wanting to take drugs, somebody looking for passion, unconventional mother-son relationships