The Book Review: Charles Bukowski’s “The Bell Tolls for No One”

“The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.” – Charles Bukowski

As a Bukowski-fan I have to write a review about the latest book that has been published by him. If you have never heard or read anything by Bukowski I want to give you a little insight first. Henry Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was a German-born (yay!) American novelist and poet. He has written many short stories as well. He moved to Los Angeles at a young age and his later work was strongly influenced by the economy and culture in his surroundings. Throughout his books there is this line of poor ordinary Americans, alcohol, drugs, writing and a plethora of relationships with women. [In his book “Post Office” he describes the drudgery of his work as Hank Chinaski at a post office. (my favorite book by him so far – “Pickle Factory!”)].  He died of leukemia 1994 in San Pedro, California.

I gave my mom one of Bukowski’s books to read once. She read the first 10 pages and put it down with disgust. Bukowski has just an acquired taste to his stories – mostly short stories, very pornographic pieces and very shocking details at points. I have to admit that it made me uncomfortable at points as well reading his books – simply because of all the alcoholics, all his drinking which is a lot (like he was drunk 99%  of the day and while writing basically), adultery, gambling and just simply “hanging- around -doing nothing- lifestyle”.

In “The Bells Tolls for No One” he meets women or characters who come with no backstories really. They just pop into his life in a bar usually, get wasted with him and talk for hours while he writes things down that he might need at some point for a story. And of course he drinks and drinks and drinks with all of them.  Most of his “friends” are motivated by alcohol, drugs, unhappiness, boredom and just craziness. Reading Bukowski gives a great insight on how the hardcore drinking life in the suburbs was like (and most likely still is). He has this unique style of describing sexual violence like you are having tea with a friend at home. Like okay, this is normal. It just happens. Then in the next minute he is totally honest and captivates observations that are just not blurred by alcohol and drugs. (the remaining 1% I guess)

Reading Bukowski in public is awesome. People who know Bukowski will comment when they see you with one of his books somewhere. When I read “Post office” I took the book with me wherever I went to just finish it. So one day in the elevator at work there was a man looking at me, then at the book, then back at me. He smiled and said: “I love Bukowski. I read all of his books. He is amazing.” I wanted to ask him what he loved so much about him but the elevator door closed. I can imagine what it was.  I guess people have specific opinions on Mr. Bukowski and all his writings. He is just a “dirty old man” as many of his readers call him with just a little mix of Ernest Hemingway’s style of writing.

Get ready for some humor, relationship troubles, booze, drugs and sex. Lots of sex! There is this repetitiveness  – almost like all the Bukowski books are in a way the same but each and every one is just unique and a little special and a tiny bit different. When I started reading the book I thought it was just great how he switches between fantasy, drunkenness  and reality. I was wondering throughout the entire book how it is possible to find true meaning in life with a lifestyle like his. How can one comfortably live like this and be happy or enjoy life?

In “The Bells Tolls for No One” only two stories have not been published previously. “A Kind Understand Face,” and “Flying Is the Safest Way to Travel.” All the others ones have been published in one of his more than forty-five books! This book is published by “City Lights” and edited by David Stephen Calonne who did a great job with all the little cartoon throughout the book as well as the introduction.

Great read overall and shocking but comfortably awesome.

Happy reading!



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