Title: Cities of the Red Night
Author: William Burroughs
Page Count/Review Word Count: 287
William Burroughs is insane, and this novel is a weird tale of sex, surrealism and death spanning centuries that’s inspired by his own experimentation with heroin, orgones and spurious religious beliefs. Cities of the Red Night is the first book in his final trilogy of novels (the Red Night trilogy), and it’s followed by The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands.
Loosely speaking, the non-linear plot alternates between a group of pirates seeking the freedom to set up an anarchist community during the 18th century, and a detective who’s searching for a lost boy at the tail-end of the 20th century, at the present time during the writing. Really, though, it’s trippy and difficult to follow – because the story isn’t linear, it almost doesn’t matter what order you read it in.
Burroughs himself described the project as a ‘tour de force‘, which is true – there’s something about Cities of the Red Night that I can’t put my finger on, a lingering sense of brilliance despite the fact that half of the time I had no idea what was happening.
Interestingly enough, some of the chapters are named after a group of random phrases that Burroughs gathered in an essay called ‘Ten Years and a Billion Dollars‘ in his collection of non-fiction called ‘The Adding Machine‘. It’s always interesting to see how different members of the beat generation write prose and poetry, and Burroughs is no exception – the ideas and techniques behind the novel are actually more interesting than the novel itself, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read it.