Isolation (re)Read #95

Young Adam: Alexander Trocchi

First published in 1954. This edition from the excellent Rebel Inc has among the blurb on the back cover, the following:

One of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met – Allen Ginsberg

A very fine writer – Normal Mailer

Trocchi writes with a great power…but I hope he will chose a more pleasant theme next time – Daily Telegraph

Cosmopolitan scum! A writer of no literary consequence whatsoever – Hugh MacDiarmid

Leslie and Joe are working on Leslie’s barge, carrying loads of coal / anthracite weekly between Glasgow and Leith, Leslie’s young wife Ella and her boy, Jim, also live on board. Joe is the hired-hand. One mundane morning, Joe spots the body of young woman floating in the Clyde. With Leslie’s help they pull her on board. The authorities are called, the body is taken away and all too soon the authorities convince themselves that there has been foul play. Meantime, Joe begins looking at Ella in a new light and they start a passionate affair, which Leslie soon discovers and leaves them to it, walking off the barge to find new work.

After Joe’s first hurried coupling with Ella, on a towpath while Leslie is playing darts at a nearby pub, the following chapter opens, “The slow lick of the water against the belly of the barge was still present when I awoke, as though during the night it had guarded the connection between states of waking and sleeping…

That is the opening section of the book. The following section, tells the story from a different angle and develops it.

It becomes clear that Joe knew the dead woman, Cathie, indeed they were a couple for a while and he still carries a photo of her in his wallet, even though they broke up some months ago. A different man, is accused of murdering her and Joe attends the trial out of some kind of morbid fascination.

At the trial Joe observes, “They had created a crime and now they had created a man to fit it. The only disquieting part about the whole freakshow as that they would condemn a living creature in deference to the system…I had sat on the previous day and waited for the twelve jury-men (three ladies and nine gentlemen) to return. Their pomposity made them ridiculous. It occurred to me that there might be one amongst them who felt like a murderer. The rest would be protected by their sanctimoniousness.” And when the judge pronounced sentence, feeling the crime “…justified the maximum penalty. He said almost lecherously, and only then was I struck by the fact that the man was quite mad.

Trocchi wrote with sensuality and economy, he tackled subjects that did not endear him to legal authorities, never mind the publishers of the 1950s – drug use, he was a heroin addict for much of his life; the lives of ordinary workers, and frank descriptions of sex – its fair to say there was godlessness and a lack of respect for established authorities. This is why he is great, and at a brief but chastening 150 pages, this book is both a classic and one that opened the gates to many of those “difficult” novels that followed.

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