Factotum by Charles Bukowski – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Bukowski’s alter ego and anti-hero, the heavy drinking, racetrack-frequenting Chinaski, is a womaniser with an utter disdain for authority. The story follows the protagonist’s litany of low-paid, menial jobs, which include stints working as a shipping clerk, a hotel porter, a janitor, a delivery driver and at a clothes retailer. Apathetic, disobedient, and determined to do the absolute minimum whatever the consequences, Chinaski leads an itinerant lifestyle that entails relentless heavy drinking, and a turbulent relationship with on-off girlfriend, Joyce, an unfaithful alcoholic ten years his senior. Living amongst the lowlifes of Los Angeles, his is a seedy existence of booze, sordid accommodation and cheap food.
Employing the author’s trademark blunt, brutal, visceral writing style and fast paced prose, Factotum is a largely autobiographical account of the author’s life as a young man. Candid, gritty and replete with black humour, this is a tale about the drudgery of menial work and its dehumanising effects on those that partake in it. Though Chinaski is an unrepentant, hostile, utterly irresponsible and vulgar character, the reader is able to respect him for his refusal to seek pity, his self-destructive integrity and ability to be unaffected by others’ opinions and attitudes towards him. The book also reveals something of the nature of Bukowski’s problematic childhood, notably the relationship with his abusive father.