Pulp by Charles Bukowski – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Pulp is a noir detective tale about a private eye, Nick Belane. Belane is an overweight, crude and argumentative low-life private ‘dick’. Tired of his existence and inept at his job, he spends most of his time betting on horse races and drinking heavily. Bizarre, surreal and supernatural, the story follows four peculiar cases that Belane takes on, involving such diverse characters as a French classical author, the elusive Red Sparrow and a space alien.
Pulp is a humorous and vulgar parody of the detective/mystery genre. At times metaphorical and allegorical, the book is ridden with clichés from an earlier era, of the ‘baby’ and ‘doll’ variety. In typical Bukowski fashion, the author explores society’s low-life in a coarse and stark manner. There are numerous references to such distasteful subjects as urination, swatting flies and obesity.
The book is written in a pulp style – the term ‘pulp’ having originated from the magazines of the first half of the twentieth-century, printed on cheap ‘pulp’ paper, their content of the escapist fiction variety. Dedicated to bad writing, Pulp employs a compelling, fast-paced, blunt prose style with short sentences and few adjectives.
Pulp is much more than a mere addition to the pulp genre however. Protagonist Belane’s rumination on death, decline and his perceived hopelessness of humanity are poignant themes. It has been argued that the subject matter of death and decline are reflective of the author’s own acceptance of his mortality. This was Bukowski’s last book and he was aware that his own demise was imminent.