BOOK REViEW: The Wild Boys, William Burroughs

Just finished reading this. It’s a short and fairly easy read, albeit the prose veers between normal and ‘cut up’. Luckily there’s enough standard English to make it readable.

I’m fascinated by Burroughs. I think he’s prob’ a bit nuts, and possibly a bit of a huckster/charlatan. But he has a great command of language, and an amazingly vivid if somewhat twisted imagination.

In essence, a great deal of Burroughs writing – at least what I’ve read – is autobiographical. But rather than straightforward documentary narrative, Burroughs serves up a postmodern bouillabaisse of fevered drug-addled eroto-fantasy, interwoven with crumbling memories.

Burroughs wandering life as a trust-fund dilettante, globe-trotting in search of, essentially/frankly, thrills, and being both gay and – by dint of the latter, to some extent – Bohemian, lead him to live in all the places that crop up here: St Louis, Mexico City, London, North Africa, New York, etc.

Burroughs’ unusual outsider life – involving crime, drugs, and a sexuality that meant living not like but as an outlaw – all conspired to fuel a pretty weird fantasy world. And so The Wild Boys (and other writings) veers towards being his kind of heir to the Marquis de Sade’s vision of ultimate freedom in a melange of sex and violence.

Depending on the reader’s tastes, it can make for quite compelling and entertaining (or off-putting) reading. What it’s real merits may be, I’m very uncertain. In some ways I enjoyed this book. In others, I was disappointed.* As with much of Burroughs’ work, it’s like the somewhat choreographed dredgings of a disordered and fairly warped mind.

In some of his writings all of this is filtered through very standard prose, in others – particularly when he employs his cut up style – it’s practically unreadable. Here it’s a mixture, thankfully erring on the side of comprehensible. But the visions it describes are, well… read it. See what you think!

The book signs off ‘William S. Burroughs, London, 1969’. This was an interesting time in his life, about which you can learn more here.

Pop group Duran Duran’s hit song is named after the novel (more on this below). And I’ve read that cult gay film maker Fred Halsted was in discussions with Burroughs about making a pornographic movie of The Wild Boys. But that never came to pass, alas.

* The titular Wild Boys don’t really come to the fore till very near the end of the book. Making many of the ‘plot’ synopses of this work I’ve seen seem way too glib/conventional.


I made the following notes as I read the book. I forgot to do so for two chapters, so those are in [brackets]!

CHAPTER / Remarks / score
Tio Maté Smiles - Cinematic surrealist Mexico City sleaze… **1/2
The Chief Smiles - Moroccan death sleaze … ***
Old Sarge Smiles - St Louis nun-sleaze, with a sprinkling of racism… **1/2
Bury the Bread - Audrey moons, Old Sarge rants; a psychedelic melange… ***
Penny Arcade Peep Show #1 - Funfair surreal gay sex dreams ***1/2
Le Gran Luxe - Big swanky party surreal gay sex dreams ***1/2
[Penny Arcade PS #2 - I forget!]
[Miracle Rose - … er? Something to do with anii… & ‘rectal mucous’!?]
Silver Smile - Frankie & Johnny gay sex dreams ****
Frisco Kid - Klondike gay sex dream ***1/2
Penny Arcade PS #3 - Cinematic cut & paste
Dead Child - Golf course gay sex dreams morph into shaman jungle dream ***
Call Me Joe - Defection from the straight army to the Wild Boys **1/2
Mother & I - Perverts vs Police State: ‘Our aim is total chaos’. Wild Boys eroto-horror… ***
Wild Boys - The title finally addressed… more of the same [gay sex dreams]… **1/2
Penny Arcade PS #4 - Tree-house-boat gay sex dream ***1/2
Penny Arcade PS #5 - Assassin gardener **1/2
Wild Boys Smile - Arrival, more of the same [gay sex dreams]… The End ***


The Duran Duran song, The Wild Boys, is of little or no interest to me, particularly musically, in itself. But it is a little intriguing inasmuch as it was supposed to be the theme song to another mooted attempt at making the book into a film. The ‘songfacts’ website says:

‘Duran Duran recorded the song because Russell Mulcahy, who directed their videos, bought the movie rights to the book and planned to make it into a film. The band wrote the song for the movie, which was never made. At the time, this was the most expensive video ever made.’