The best novels that reveal society as a gaping pus-ridden bedsore

Who am I?

I was educated in the so-called ‘university of life’, before eventually going to a few proper universities, and returning to live in my old hometown in Essex—after spending far too long making loud music and a nuisance of myself in South London. My literary references are eclectic, but I thought I would focus my book recommendations on the anti-hero who comes from the world of French and American dirty realism. It should alert the reader to the kind of novels I write, although they're highly structured crime thrillers, with a heavy dose of very dry, sardonic sense of humor. Finally, the sequel to my latest novel should be ready for publication in 2023.


I wrote...

The Dead Hand of Dominique

By Simon Marlowe,

Book cover of The Dead Hand of Dominique

What is my book about?

The novel is narrated by a young career villain Steven Mason, who lives on a run-down housing estate along the fringes of London and Essex. He is tasked by his gangland boss (nicknamed Grandad) to track down his missing girlfriend Dominique. However, Steven knows things are not going to be simple when he discovers a frozen hand in Mickey Finn's old fridge. Steven then travels up to London with his mate Anthony (a junkie artist who Grandad uses to launder money), to begin the search for Dominique. As Steven speaks to people connected with her, he begins to uncover a plot that is about revenge, money, power, and control. And it all centers on the dead hand, what is on the dead hand, and if it is Dominique’s.

The books I picked & why

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Journey to the End of the Night

By Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Ralph Manheim (translator),

Book cover of Journey to the End of the Night

Why this book?

Celine is the big daddy of low life, the snarling metronome of misanthropy. Nearly a hundred years since its publication, it is as fresh as a daisy and should convince anybody that writing about real-life and what you think has more merit than all the BS that goes into all the other literary BS you think you should be writing or reading, because someone told you it should be elevated above the ordinary. Celine says what he thinks, warts and all. (Although it did get out of hand later in his life when he goes full throttle antisemitic!) He puts all his prejudices out there, plus blood, pain, war, fear, colonialism, boredom, hypocrisy, intolerance, jealousy, greed, industrialisation, poverty, medicine, and love-torn envy in the classic French noir thriller ending. Look no further if you want to read the greatest novel ever written!  


The Thief's Journal

By Jean Genet,

Book cover of The Thief's Journal

Why this book?

The French have a peculiar sadomasochism, where they venerate the destitute, elevate them to romantic icons, and then wait to be spat on, by the very thing they applaud. This is Genet in a nutshell, a bourgeois-hating novelist and playwright (who makes Joe Orton sound like an infantile literary masturbator), who got around to putting his life down on paper with this novel, The Thief’s Journal. It is post-Celine, and predates Dirty Realism, and has caustic revelations of a petty criminal. He finds virtue in the sewers of Paris and Europe, like a Phantom dwelling artist whose dishonesty is part of a performance art exhibition. 


Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"

By William S. Burroughs,

Book cover of Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"

Why this book?

When I read Junky, I could hear the soundtrack of Low Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, followed by the extended guitar solo on the live version of Heroin. This is Burroughs using a straightforward narrative before he decided to cut up everything and destroy the notion that there was any purpose to a beginning, middle, and end (see Naked Lunch and beyond!). Junky pulses with the desperation of an addict’s life in post-war New York and drifting down south to places like New Orleans and Mexico City. It’s a unique insight into a drug-infested lifestyle, before drugs became a fashionable accessory. It has authenticity dripping through it and is a testament to Burroughs own addiction, which at one point caused his father to collect him and move him back to live with his parents (just like Lou Reed did before he went on to ‘make it’!).


Last Exit to Brooklyn

By Hubert Selby Jr.,

Book cover of Last Exit to Brooklyn

Why this book?

Selby got into writing late in his life (much like me!) but that doesn’t negate the richness of his five novels and the best one: Last Exit to Brooklyn. If you read about Selby’s life, he could just as easily write an autobiography and it would have proved that fact is stranger than fiction. Last Exit, is a pulled-together novel from his initial forays into creative writing and short fiction, but don’t worry about that, because the tales of down-and-out diversity are all jaw-dropping, eye-popping, mind-boggling, and gut-wrenching. These literary portraits capture the depravity of life at its finest juncture, between heaven and hell—but mainly hell! 


Slaughterhouse-Five

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Slaughterhouse-Five

Why this book?

I got around to reading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a good thirty or so years after I had seen the film (which had a lasting impression on me). Whilst it would not be considered in the tradition of gritty realism, it has the underlying current of anti-hero and scathing critique of society. Vonnegut is one of those authors who has been catagorised by marketing as science fiction, but he is a supreme satirist, who takes cold steel to the bloated illusions about morality in war and the American Dream. He dices and slices, to leave the shredded reactionaries gasping for air on the desecrated altar of capitalism—it oozes the pus of hypocrisy and bursts a few boils!  


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, Brooklyn, and outlaws?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, Brooklyn, and outlaws.

France Explore 544 books about France
Brooklyn Explore 48 books about Brooklyn
Outlaws Explore 26 books about outlaws

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Journal à quatre mains, Brave Men, and They Came from Burgundy: A study of the Bourgogne Escape Line if you like this list.