Cain's Book is a novel by Scottish beat
writer Alexander Trocchi
, first published in 1960. A roman a clef
, it details the life of Joe Necchi
, a heroin addict
and writer, who is living and working on a scow
on the Hudson river
, New York
. The book alternates between Necchi/Trocchi's attempts to score and flashbacks to his experiences as a child in Glasgow
, and later as a young man in London
This book aspires to literary excellence, it has many passages of delightful prose and elegant phrasing. It is also an honest account of what it means to bea junky and an outisder from society. On occasion it can descend into ranting about the hypocrisy and stupidity of drug prohibition and the general inequities of the world. It describes with an eye for detail the rituals of heroin, the cooking up and the search for a suitable vein.
I enjoyed reading this book, though it gets more and more fragmented as it draws to a close with Trocchi realising that he is incapable of a maintaining a conventional narrative. In being consumed with his addiciton, Trocchi strives to document his alienation and his desire to use his creativity against the existentialist fear of being washed away by history with no sign of his life remaining.
"When I write I have trouble with my tenses. Where I was tomorrow is where I am today, where I would be yesterday. I have a horror of committing fraud. It is all very difficult, the past even more than the future, for the latter is at least probable, calculable, while the former is beyond the range of experiment. The past is always a lie clung to by an odour of ancestors."
The title of the book gives a clear indication of Trocchi's intentions. He casts himself as beyond society, above laws and morals and wars and guilt. He did not see himself as just a junky but rather a crusader, the mind-expanding quality of drugs, as he saw it, outweighed any other argument against them. But as Trocchi's later life was to show, his own addiction prevented him from finishing his follow-up to Cain's Book before his death.
Cain's Book was released to acclaim in the USA, but when it was published in the UK it provoked an outcry and was the subject of an obscenity trial brought by Sheffield City Council due to its depiction of drug abuse and its sexual descriptions (not to mention the frequent use of cunt). It should be noted that Trocchi certainly set out to attract a reaction, he relished battles with authorities (to the extent that in the 60s he had to be smuggled over the Canadian border as he faced the prosopect of a long jail term for his repeated drug misdeamours) to shock, offend or deprave. Even today I don't expect that this will be cropping up in any school libraries, it's a worthwhile read for any fans of the beat writers, or more modern 'drug' writers like Irvine Welsh or Will Self.