The junkie in literature

I’m undertook a mini-project based on the theme of: “The Junkie in Literature”.

It involved the reading and reviewing  of books based on this theme.

Firstly I should say that I am not a reformed junkie or a current junkie or have ever been a junkie. Apart from smoking a lot of weed in London and enjoying a couple of glasses of wine or a few beers on the weekend, my addictions are limited to blogging, cricket, books and Woody Allen films.

This is what I have read so far. Click on the book titles for the full reviews. All comments and book recommendations welcome and appreciated.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

trainspottingA brilliant, excruciating, haunting and often hilarious story about a group of Scottish junkies (and one pyschotic lunatic – Francis Begbie) set in the impoverished council estates of Edinburgh circa the late 1980s, early 1990s.

Mark Renton is the axis of the novel, an intelligent, ocassionaly cruel, somewhat bitter and philosophical junky, who in between trying to quit heroin, muses about the meaning of his life, what it means to be Scottish (colonised by English ‘wankers’ is how he puts it), trying to understand women and the pleasures and pain of being a junkie.

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner

monkey-gripSet in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne in the mid-1970s, Monkey Grip tells the story of single-mum Nora’s relationship with heroin addict and writer/actor Javo set against the back drop of house-sharing, addiction, loose parenting and easy sex. Nora does not appear to have a job (Wikipedia says she does but not the novel I read) but lives a comfortable existence punctuated by bike rides to visit friends in other share houses, lots drinking and dope (marijuana) smoking, road trips, days spend lounging at the public swimming baths with her friends, afternoon naps, cups of tea in suburban kitchens, sitting on verandahs and musing, the retelling of dreams, and helping her friends through their different relationship and personal crises.

Junkie by William S. Burroughs

burroughsjunkypaperbacksWhereas “Monkey Grip” is very much from the point of view of someone observing a junky’s addiction to heroin, “Junkie” throws you right into what it is like to be an addict and the world that exists around them.

Burrough presents an incredibly honest account of his life as a junky revealed in a concise, perfectly-worded tale.

After a brief introduction about himself (where we learn that he had a good, healthy upbringing in a “large mid West town”) we find Burroughs dismissed from the army as unfit and living in New York City in the 1940s, addicted to junk and peddling it as well.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey

confessons of an english opium eater“Confessions of an English Opium Eater” takes place in London, Manchester and the remote English countryside of the early 19th century. It’s a remarkable novella – only about a 100 pages in length – not the least because it gives a glimpse into the life of a drug addict nearly 200 years ago in a very prudish age, at a time when the idea of an English gentlemen meant that you never speak of such abhorrent things.

In my skin by Kate Holden (an interview with the author)


In My Skin is Kate Holden’s memoir of her journey from a middle-class suburban family upbringing into heroin addiction and prostitution and later, successfully beating her addiction.

The book charts how she came to become a heroin addict (curiosity, boredom, wanting to be included) and how she was forced to become a prostitute – first walking the streets of St. Kilda and later working in a number of brothels – to pay for her and her boyfriend Robbie’s habits.

lotus crew coverThe Lotus Crew by Stewart Meyer

A novel about the notorious heroin scene in Alphabet City on New York’s Lower East Side set in 1982 with a cast of archetypal junkie characters and the poetry of the street.

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