Junky by William S. Burroughs – Reviewed by Guy Portman


Set in 1950s America and Mexico, Junky is a confessional novella about drug addiction. Its protagonist Bill Lee chronicles his drug-centred existence, which entails searching for his daily fix, scoring, and intravenous drug consumption. The population of this seedy underworld have a variety of roles including that of pusher, pigeon and lush.

Lee’s cycle of addiction sees him go cold turkey in various rehabilitation centres, only to return once again to opiate addiction. During his periods of remission Lee is a heavy drinker with a penchant for rent boys.

The author adroitly captures the obsessive, dominating reality of addiction by minimising non-drug related matters. Lee’s wife is merely an afterthought and there is no mention of other family members, or non-drug associates. Though the protagonist is programmed to self-destruct, he is an intelligent, introverted and pensive character, prone to reflecting on the biology and psychology of drug addiction.

This, Burroughs’s first book, is narrated in a matter of fact, non-emotional fashion. Semi-autobiographical in nature, it is a record of drug abuse that in addition to heroin includes a plethora of other substances, such as goof balls, cocaine, peyote, marijuana and paregoric. Candid and credible, Junky takes a detached journalistic approach that is in stark contrast to the rambling, stream of consciousness style found in some of Burroughs’s later works.

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