The Room by Hubert Selby Jr - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

The Room by Hubert Selby Jr.

by Kristopher Cook
The Room by Hubert Selby Jr Book Cover
Secluded in his remand cell, a small-time criminal surrenders himself to sadistic fantasies of hatred and revenge. Selby's second novel is a claustrophobic descent into the tormented soul of a man trapped in a loveless society.
Genre: Contemporary
Available from: Amazon UK | Amazon US
Estimated Read: 3 minutes

Animal cruelty, bestiality, rape, murder – it’s all here in this drawn-out snooze fest that is Selby’s much-limited release, The Room.

Although The Room is a modern contemporary, it feels more like a psychological horror. The writing is tense and claustrophobic; the actions are dark, and the outcomes bleak.

Written mostly as an inner monologue by the main narrator, left unnamed, we’re forced to endure his every thought, his every decision without a moment to breath.

Although this sounds good in theory, the content of the book soon becomes tiresome and feels as though it was written mostly for shock-value.

Hubert Selby claims that ‘reading the reviews of the book were some of the greatest he’d ever read’, mostly because of the length they went to in order to condemn his work.

In their defence, Selby himself stated that he was unable to reread his own work for over 20 years.

Diving Deeper

Much of Selby’s work deals with the pessimism shown by individuals and the actions that define them; a topic that’s also a mainstay in his most famous book, Requiem for a Dream.

Depression and deprivation are what he does best, and none of his work is more prominent in these notions than The Room.

I know it might not seem it, but I really am trying to find something good to say about this book.

I guess it follows in Selby’s usual grammar-deficient style, which is always refreshing to read. It also shows how great his writing is when he can jump between characters without the need for new paragraphs and quotation marks, and you’re able to keep track.

Other than that, there isn’t much.

He had started to shake the state to its very foundation and he wasn’t going to stop. He/d continue fighting until the day he died if necessary. The entire world would see how rotten and corrupt the system is.

Hubert Selby Jr, The Room

As the title would suggest, the majority of this book takes place within a room, more specifically a prison cell, where the unnamed narrator is being held for police harassment and petty crimes.

Comparative Titles

It’s ironic that this book should share its title with the total trash that is Tommy Wiseau’s film by the same name.

Both utterly lacking in creative performance, substance and application.

I’m bitterly disappointed.

I went into this thinking it would add to the legend of Hubert Selby, the man who overcame the odds to become one of America’s best-selling authors, but now I see another a reason why.

At the end of the day, controversy sells.

There are scenes in this book that are way beyond the vulgarness found in The 120 Days of Sodemn, and way beyond the pale of sexual violence in American Psycho.

Speaking of American Psycho, there’s a scene here that feels like it’s initially written by Bret Easton-Ellis, who then had a change of heart and threw it away for being ‘too far’.

Selby Jr, however, apparently doesn’t have the same qualms, or standards.

The narrator is sat in his cell fantasizing, as is most of the book, about being a policeman.

Within this fantasy, he and his partner Fred, pull a woman over in her car. He then proceeds to cuff her, abduct her, and brutally rape her in nearby woods.

In between this, he calls her babysitter to let her know that the woman will be late picking up her young son.

And this is only a small part.

The sequences involving his dogs is horrific beyond belief.

The levels of deprivation here are completely stomach-churning. I needed to stop several times throughout to take a break, clear my head, and build up the courage to start again.

Closing Thoughts

Would I recommend this book, no.

Although it is a deep-dark dive into the darkest recesses of human behaviour, a subject much covered in my reviews, it doesn’t offer up much in return.

The book feels slow, convoluted and is incredibly difficult to read as every other chapter contains graphic torture, pornographic fantasies or boring internal monologues.

If you’ve previously read Hubert Selby Jr’s previous books then maybe, just maybe take a look, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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