Pulp by Charles Bukowski: A mockery of Pulp Fiction


Pallavi Sareen

Sep 24, 2020

If you have never read book Bukowski before, then Pulp is not the book that you should start with. But if you are familiar with the nuances of the writings of this brilliant raw and edgy writer, then Pulp will feel like a nostalgia trip. I know his writing mainly through his poems which are imitated across the world because of its unique style. This was the first novel that I picked up and I must say it exceeded my expectations.

A detective that is in the image of the writer

The protagonist of this book Nick Belane is a detective but his behaviourism seemed like an essence of the protagonist of each one of Bukowski’s poems (Chinaski). He is a drunkard, a lazy ass man, who picks more fights with random strangers than the number of cases he solves. His life turns upside down when he starts getting ridiculous cases to solve and turns out to be pretty good at solving them. Suddenly, his business is booming, but that doesn’t help the fact that his life is a mess.

Chaotic Life

While I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the outside world where the detective was stuck in a mess and his inner chaotic world. Loneliness is one of the themes of this book which is highlighted when the detective becomes determined to prove that a client’s wife is cheating on him. His comical use of catch phrases like “I’m gonna nail her ass” just adds to the desperation he has to prove his worth. Another theme is that of a confused identity. The detective himself does not know who he is, why so many the people are trusting him with the job that he finds incapable of doing. But there is one person, one voice that shows the trust in him and keeps telling him you can do it. So, it is almost like he’s feeling as a fraud which takes us to his first case where he is asked to prove whether or not a guy who comes to a Bookstore regularly is a French writer Celine who died years ago. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Well that is the essence of this book.

Mixed Genres

The book dabbles with various genres and sometimes it makes no sense, but if you see it in a coherent manner, it is just like life. Surrealism is not something that I have seen too much in Bukowski’s works but the concept of red sparrow really forced me to think whether I had pre-judged him. Some of the chapters felt like Vonnegut’s sci-fi while others, like the name suggests made a mockery of the Pulp fiction genre. I must say that I was quite impressed by Bukowski’s ability to string together this book while mocking each stereotype of the genre. Many times, our protagonist Belane found himself stuck in situations where he could no get out of, but whether you want to credit it with “bad and totally unbelievable writing” or over-the-top dramatization of the genre, he always made his way out of there.

Madness and Death

And….. let’s not forget alcohol. Because these are the recurrent themes in all of Bukowski’s work. Without them, a reader would not be able to recognize a piece of writing as his. What is interesting, though is the way these themes are personified in the book. The character of Lady death symbolises the death as it years after a dead writer but wants to be sure it is him. The debt Belane owes that keeps on piling up as he keeps getting duped by people who claim to know about the Red Sparrow symbolise madness.

Favourite Quotes

Often the best parts of life were when you weren’t doing anything at all, just mulling it over, chewing on it. I mean, say that you figure that everything is senseless, then it can’t be quite senseless because you are aware that it’s senseless and your awareness of senselessness almost gives it sense.

Sometimes I looked at my hands and realised that I could have been a great pianist or something. But what have my hands done? Written checks, tied shoes, pushed toilet levers etc. I have wasted my hands. And My Mind.

— Pulp, Bukowski


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