Post Office by Charles Bukowski – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Henry Chinaski is a heavy drinking, womanising, race track frequenting low-life, who works at the post office. The story follows his menial existence of twelve-hour night shifts, sorting post, delivering mail, observing his fellow colleagues and facing countless disciplinary measures, for offences such as missing work and refusing to follow protocol.
Chinaski’s free time consists of alcohol consumption, an infatuation with the horses and relationships, both casual and long term, with a succession of women, including Betty; a tragic, divorced alcoholic, as well as the nymphomaniac, parakeet owning, independently wealthy Joyce, and a war protesting hippy, a liaison that results in a daughter.
This, Bukowski’s first novel, is an autobiographical account of the period in his life prior to writing Post Office. His trademark visceral literary style and economy of the written word is in evidence throughout, as he adroitly describes the banality, hardship and dehumanisation of unskilled drudgery. Utilising a brutal, blunt and fast-paced narrative, replete with black humour, Post Office is at times sad and poignant.
Though Chinaski is a loathsome, repugnant creature, with a cynical outlook, vulgar and seedy habits, misogynistic attitudes, and an unrelenting craving for the most base urges, the reader is able to identify with him, due to his inherent humanness and unerring ability not to seek pity, in the face of what is ultimately a lonely and largely unrewarding existence.