I found this article a week or so back and did a quick compare-and-contrast between the author’s list and the one I covered when it was my turn. To be fair to Joshua B his list is clearly labelled as ‘most popular’ rather than ‘greatest ever’ but the similarities -and the differences – are interesting. We’ve both got De Sade, Pauline Reage and Anais Nin, and he has Henry Miller, who I booted off my own list, but he’s included Lolita, which I certainly wouldn’t have done on the grounds that it might be a shocking, transgressive, etc, etc but defining it as, basically, wank material sits a little uncomfortably with me. Though perhaps that is also true of De Sade, whose work was more concerned with philosophy, satire, politics and the like than any intent to turn the reader on.
There was a time when I took to collecting examples of sensational/shocking/sexually explicit curiosities of genre fiction, many of which had been notorious for a while but are now completely forgotten, in some cases deservedly. Thinking over some of the titles I picked up in charity shops or car boot sales, I wonder what makes one book linger on as a cultural reference point while another fades into obscurity. Here are just a few examples…
A Feast Unknown a kind of parody of sex’n’violence pulp fiction. Which, rather than boosting the libido, actually put me off oral sex for several weeks when I read it.
The F Certificate I have a great deal of fondness for this gloriously ludicrous and completely of-its-time novel, which predicts that, should it ever become legal to show the sex act on film, society will fall to pieces. I haven’t been able to find out if it was a bestseller when it came out, but it was certainly part of a trend in the late 60s and early 70s of lip-smacking shock-horror-sex novels, generally written by upstanding Englishmen who hated all this permissive naughtiness but weren’t averse to making a few quid out of it.
I am also old enough to remember the Richard Allen novels such as Skinhead, Suedehead and Chopper, as well as the Hell’s Angel books by Mick Norman, and there’s an interesting piece about them here. Certainly when I read them as a stroppy teenager, I found the ‘dirty bits’ quite effective even though the sex was generally happening between unrealistic and unloveable characters and often cluttered up with misogyny, never mind the amount of violence in the books.
But when it comes to uneasy mixes of sex and violence, my next nomination for a relatively contemporary classic is one that really isn’t for the faint-hearted. House Of Pain It’s bleak, scary, beautifully written and thoroughly disturbing; basically one long scream of grief and rage. I’m surprised it isn’t better known as no one who has read it would easily forget it.
Anyway, if you have any nominations of your own for classic status, send them this way…