1. Narcotics; drugs. 2. Any cheap imitation, as imitation jewelry; a stiff. 3. Any stolen goods other than cash, especially jewelry.

- american underworld dictionary - 1950

Junk by Melvin Burgess is a book which attempts to subtly deter its readership from heroin. It takes the same stance as Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh on this matter. The I’ve-been-there-so-I’m-not-preaching stance. Indeed the book is prefixed by an Author’s Note explaining this:

“This book is set roughly in the early and middle 1980s, when I myself was living in Bristol. All the major events have happened, are happening and will no doubt continue to happen. I saw many of them myself and heard about many more… The book isn’t fact; it isn’t even faction. But it’s all true every word.”

Now while the above alluded to readership undoubtedly has huge bearing on how the book was written and how it was intended to be read, this plea for credibility holds little weight with me. The target readership is presumably impressionable teenagers as yet unaware as to the pitfalls of hard drugs, and with this in mind perhaps I am being overly harsh. However I consider a mal executed warning nearly worse than no warning at all. I say this because in order to retain credibility with the (obviously) cynical teenage reader, Mr. Burgess must let some things slip. Things that normally aren’t admitted, things that they like to keep under wraps. Things like this: Drugs are fun. Again the similarities to Trainspotting arise, Welsh attempted the same thing, and for me it had the same outcome. I become fascinated with the idea of heroin and I completely disregard the remaining moral commentary. It is almost as if I adopt the dismissiveness of the described junkies and ignore the fable-like consequences of their actions. Ironically this is almost certainly the exact opposite of the desired effect, however it underlines the problem. Fiction is never read as fact. And badly written fiction is incredible and dangerous if allegorical.

As a story it is perhaps what would be called typical. There are the two main characters: Tar and Gemma, who have left home at the age of 14 and live as squatters in Bristol. Ironically (and perhaps a little too conveniently) Tar is christened Tar by Gemma because he pesters her to give up smoking “You’ll get tar in your lungs”. There are approximately ten other characters in the book, and each of those gets a chance to speak. Every chapter is written from a different person’s POV, with Tar and Gemma getting the most frequent turns. This offers some interesting perspectives but in my opinion it takes from the overall cohesiveness of the novel. The story charts the two principal character’s four year decline into junkdom. The writing is clear and effective but I feel it fails to grasp the motivation behind any of the characters’ actions. I personally never felt any connection with either Tar or Gemma, despite them being portrayed as normal people. Maybe too much emphasis is put on their problems instead of focusing on their personalities, whatever the reason a somewhat plastic result emerges.

That having been said, it was a compulsive read. It gripped me somewhat and demanded that I read it quickly in order to find out the ending. The ending may have seemed predictable, trite and unfinished to me, but then that is probably my own fault for reading and expecting too much of teenage fiction. All in all I feel a little guilty for bashing it so horribly because it probably has been quite effective in highlighting the dangers of drugs to those a little less cynical than I, and may be the perfect read for those looking for a nice diversion. If you want high literature then you probably wouldn’t have read this far as by now would realise that this book is not for you, but if you want a book that deals with the effects of heroin a little less ambiguously than Trainspotting then this could indeed be for you.

Disclaimer: I'm sorry for being opinionated

Junk (?), n.

A fragment of any solid substance; a thick piece. See Chunk.




© Webster 1913.

Junk, n. [Pg. junco junk, rush, L. juncus a bulrush, of which ropes were made in early ages. Cf. Junket.]


Pieces of old cable or old cordage, used for making gaskets, mats, swabs, etc., and when picked to pieces, forming oakum for filling the seams of ships.


Old iron, or other metal, glass, paper, etc., bought and sold by junk dealers.

3. Naut.

Hard salted beef supplied to ships.

Junk bottle , a stout bottle made of thick dark-colored glass. -- Junk dealer, a dealer in old cordage, old metal, glass, etc. -- Junk hook Whaling, a hook for hauling heavy pieces of blubber on deck. -- Junk ring. (a) A packing of soft material round the piston of a steam engine. (b) A metallic ring for retaining a piston packing in place; (c) A follower. -- Junk shop, a shop where old cordage, and ship's tackle, old iron, old bottles, old paper, etc., are kept for sale. -- Junk vat Leather Manuf., a large vat into which spent tan liquor or ooze is pumped. -- Junk wad Mil., a wad used in proving cannon; also used in firing hot shot.


© Webster 1913.

Junk, n. [Pg. junco; cf. Jav. & Malay jong, ajong, Chin. chwan.] Naut.

A large vessel, without keel or prominent stem, and with huge masts in one piece, used by the Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, Malays, etc., in navigating their waters.


© Webster 1913.

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