Guide to Cult Fiction
Edited by Paul
Simpson, Michaela Bushell, and Helen Rodiss
(London: Rough Guides/Penguin, 2005)
368 pages. Illustrated.
Rough Guides Reference Series.
Review by Dr. Kirk
February 12, 2020
a photograph of Albert Camus on its cover, The Rough Guide to Cult
Fiction will interest readers who enjoy unorthodox, cutting-edge literature.
In short, this volume "is an eclectic and essential guide to the literary
world's greatest cult authors and the facts behind their fiction."
Discussing more than 200 writers, from Kobo Abe (sometimes called
"the Japanese Kafka") to Richard Zimler (known for such works as The
Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and Hunting Midnight), it offers succinct,
though insightful, examinations of the authors and their publications.
Full of captivating facts, The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction also provides
an informative section on graphic novelists. Another segment of the
book pays tribute to 35 cult characters, "the fictional heroes and
heroines who have jumped off the page and into popular culture," including
Sally Bowles, Walter Mitty, Holden Caulfield, Lolita, and Philip Marlowe.
Consider the following passages on three noted cult writers:
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) authored such underground classics
as Junky, Naked Lunch, and The Soft Machine. Over time, he "became
a cultural and artistic icon" praised by such fans as Mick Jagger,
Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, David Bowie, and Kurt Cobain. Moreover,
Burroughs "became an honorary godfather to the New York wave of punk
and coined the term heavy metal." (Interestingly, Burroughs once made
his home in Texas, living on farms near Edinburg and New Waverly!)
James Ellroy (born in 1948), "the self-proclaimed Mad Dog of American
crime fiction," has written such novels as The Black Dahlia and The
Cold Six Thousand. "Ellroy brings rare venom to his fiction. At best,
he writes slickly-plotted, noirish crime novels that offer the salacious,
sensational secrets you would expect from a scandal mag like the one
he spoofs in L. A. Confidential, served up with some of the best dialogue
this side of a Billy Wilder script, allied to a grim, cynical view
of the human race and American society."
Nathanael West (1903-1940), "an apocalyptic dreamer, out of place,
out of time," published Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust,
"for many the definitive Californian novel, with its depiction of
crazed fantasists drawn to the Golden State by their dreams. The freakish
characters, comic-surrealism and apocalyptic imagery are remarkable
for an American novel written in the 1930s…But by the 1960s West's
savage, gloomy humor seemed utterly contemporary."
Impressively researched and crisply written, The Rough Guide to Cult
Fiction-which perceptively analyzes the "genre benders, beats, gurus,
drunks, junkies, disappearing artists, sinners and surrealists" who
populate its pages-will appeal to enthusiasts of the offbeat.
Note: Readers interested in Burroughs and his time in the Lone
Star State should consult The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs:
Beats in South Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2006) by Rob Johnson.
Dr. Kirk Bane,
Book Review Editor,
Central Texas Historical Association
More Book Reviews by Dr. Kirk Bane