William S Burroughs: A Life by Barry Miles; Taking Shots: The Photography of William S Burroughs by Patricia Allmer & John Sears - review by Ian Sansom

Ian Sansom

All Beat Up

William S Burroughs: A Life

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Weidenfeld & Nicholson 736pp £30 order from our bookshop

Taking Shots: The Photography of William S Burroughs

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Prestel 160pp £29.99 order from our bookshop
 

‘I think that William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius’ – Norman Mailer. ‘Burroughs is the greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift’ – Jack Kerouac. ‘Burroughs has, principally, two claims on the attention of serious readers: as a moralist, and as an innovator. On both counts, it seems to me, he cannot be considered as more than a minor, eccentric figure’ – David Lodge.

You may or may not have an opinion about the work of William Burroughs. Personally, I have always found the vast procession of uncoordinated accounts of sex, violence and squalor, and the endless violations of sense and meaning, and the absurd sub-philosophy, and the self-obsession, and the lack of humour, to be – well – utterly tedious, like somehow getting caught up in another man’s nightmares. I have enough nightmares of my own to contend with, so Burroughs’s work I can do without. But the life – the life! The example of the life is indispensable: the ultimate un-American Dream.

Serious Burrovians will already have read Ted Morgan’s blissed-out Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William

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