In Women, former postal clerk and previous incumbent of hundred and one dead-end jobs Henry “Hank” Chinaksi has made it… not quite big, but he has at least augmented his status above that of the general population. A professional writer whose life has become something of a continuous roadshow of poetry readings, Chinaski’s upturn in fortunes sees him no longer hobnobbing with the dregs of society but with a raft of women most of whom are young enough to be his daughter.
With the raging libido chronicled in prequels Post Office and Factotum still firmly intact, and with his list of suitors now considerably longer, Chinaski appears initially to be lapping his new lifestyle having trodden an extremely calamitous path to success. But as the relentless merry-go-round of women in his life continues to revolve, Chinaski begins to question whether he has in fact won after all.
As a reader, one is inclined to feel something similar as the novelty of the scoundrel from Post Office and Factotum’s success wears pretty thin, pretty quickly. Chinaski’s now nonchalant manner of conducting himself is a far cry the desperate, self-deprecating demeanour he exhibited in his two previous literary outings.
Chinaksi himself states on numerous occasions that he is far from a household name as writers go and it is tempting to contemplate – as he continues to go about life with a newfound assuredness that was previously alien to his followers – how insufferable he might become if he ever reached anything close to Hemingway status.
His shenanigans remain entertaining and the grim, blunt, nauseating details of some of his many less than dignified encounters endure as they did in Factotum and Post Office. But in Women, Henry Chinaski is no longer a guy trying to make it in the world, consumed by vice and trapped in a thankless system; he is instead a professional writer with nothing better to do than indulge the same vices he did prior to his success, and for that reason, he loses more than a semblance of his charm.
Henry Chinaski the shameless yet strangely lovable aspiring writer and semi-autobiographical creation of Charles Bukowski returns in Factotum, where he continues to eke out a boozy, promiscuous existence only this time he does so via a series of menial jobs.
It is a lifestyle that Bukowski, as he did in Post Office succeeds in glamourising (up to a point) as Chinaski although a common bum in the eyes of society, has a series of entertaining adventures and meets memorable characters along his road as a journeyman. The falling off point preventing anyone from abandoning the structures of one’s own life coming via the perpetual danger of permanent homelessness that Chinaski flirts with. As he flits from town to town, resigning from one job and being sacked from next, Chinaski walks a novel-long tightrope over a pit of hopelessness that it is unlikely he will ever climb out of if he falls for good.
For a man in such bleak circumstances, he has fun with it. No sexual encounter is too dirty and there are no depths to which he will not sink for his own survival or gratification.
Though his fight for survival and brief bouts of pleasure are entertaining, they highlight just as Post Office did, the seemingly inescapable cycle of soul-destroying jobs and desperation people with failed career plans live in.
Chinaski’s admirable strength is that however grim things seem to get and however many jobs he loses, he dusts himself down, hits the road and turns up somewhere else in search of easy money and loose women.
Though most of the world see Henry Chinaski as a loser, he is in many ways a hero who never says die. His second outing only serves to solidify his legacy as the rogue who whatever the circumstances, refuses to let life beat him into submission.
Rating: 4/5 – Brave, honest and hilarious. Bukowski once again manages to make life on the brink of ruin look like a whole lot of fun.
Anyone who has ever flirted with the idea of trimming some of the responsibility in their life can take a raw glimpse into a life of reckless abandon in Charles Bukowski’s debut novel Post Office.
Through scoundrel protagonist Henry ‘Hank’ Chinaski, Bukowski explores a world of exhaustive menial work that funds an inconsequential life of sex, alcoholism, and gambling.
Although it is clear Chinaski has taken more than a couple of wrong turns at some point and should probably know better than to live the way he does; it occasionally appears that he has bypassed conventional wisdom and hacked the system as he enjoys an eventful life of instant gratification and simple work. The work itself is never made out to be anything other than an unglamorous slog, but the carefree and at times triumphant manner in which Chinaski goes about his life, at times, has one teetering on the brink of giving up the career and signing up as a postman for a simple life filled with cheap thrills.
But amid the triumphs Chinaski enjoys during his time at the US Postal service, there is an undertone of caution as the strain the job and the subsequent lifestyle Chinaski partakes in to tolerate it, begins to take its toll on his health.
While the post office may not be the titan it was nearly fifty years ago when the novel was first published, menial jobs are still at large in western society and while a 21st Century Henry Chinaski might no longer work for the post office, he might work in an Amazon warehouse or as a Deliveroo driver. Despite Chinaski’s best efforts, Post Office is a reminder that exhaustive menial jobs are seldom good for a person’s health. And in a society which despite advances in technology, is still full of such work, it is a message worth remembering.