Alan's Reviews > My Dark Places

My Dark Places by James Ellroy
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's review
Aug 10, 09

bookshelves: non-fiction, read-in-2009
Recommended to Alan by: Abailart and others
Read in January, 2009

Although many of the books I read have crime in them I don't really read ‘crime’ novels, or 'true crime' books (or memoirs come to that) so I would probably have missed this altogether except for the GR reviews from friends and others. Really so much has been written on GR about this book I find it hard to add to. I agree with many assessments, like Abailart's:

This is a deeply, deeply moral book. The honesty of the author’s laying himself out like a corpse on an autopsy slab is brilliant and terrifying
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

or Jessica's:

Ellroy gets misogyny. He gets bigotry and racism. Ellroy gets brutality and violence. He gets crime. He gets sexuality, he gets desire, he gets pain. He gets honesty. He gets dissimulation and avoidance.

He gets memoir.

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....


I too was mesmerised by his confessional style and rat a tat prose, from the start I was coshed and dragged down an alley and then beaten – or maybe stabbed - relentlessly by those short grim sentences. Mostly that was good, or bracing or something. There were fantastic sections, e.g on his growing up on drugs and drink and stalking women and breaking and entering.

It all has been covered elsewhere, so I’ll concentrate here on a couple of things that struck me. One was about his disturbing erotic obsession with his mother and her pitiful death. Is some of it due to the fixation some of us have based around the time our first sexual perceptions are formed, as we change from child to adult – 10,11,12? Using myself as research it may be why I find the mid-to late sixties dress, and manners, the beginning touches of the psychedelic, that strange 'milking a cow' gestures of ‘go go’ dancing in films like ‘Harper’ so appealing while most people think they're naff. I seek out films where there might be a glimpse of beehive hairdo and above the knee black and white dresses, and some of that crap energetic, naive dancing. I adore the look and sound of Evie Sands and Sandie Shaw. All stemming from that time in my youth. For Ellroy that time started around the time of his mother's murder, and he's never truly recovered. His hard nose stance, the brutality of his attitude to women and classmates at the Jewish school he attends, his dabbling in drugs and drink can’t hide a deep pain, and the last section where he finally looks at his mother's history, her life rather than her death was probably the most moving and necessary after a book filled with such focus on death and deviance. Mind you Ellroy would probably laugh his socks off at that - there's a very derogatory remark about 'closure' (sorry I haven't got the book with me to give a direct quote).

I did find the recapitulations of the events leading up to his mother's death, although underlining the obsessive nature of his quest, and evoking the painstaking nature of police procedures, sometimes numbing, like those reality TV programmes that summarise everything that went before every ten minutes, in case you’re too stupid to remember.


The litany of murders, one after the other, I found deeply disturbing, depressing, (although other GRers haven’t), particularly the one that also comes up later in the book, the Robbie and Daddy Beckett case where a lad takes his teenage girlfriend home to his dad to rape and murder (maybe because I have teenage daughters).

So I was bludgeoned, scared, depressed, on some mad repetitive high followed by the grungiest down ever, but impressed, shaken up. Not sure I will read another Ellroy yet, despite universal GR adoration. Don't know if I could take it. I must be a wuss.


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Mike                                              Great review, Alan. (And not just because you used the word "coshed.")


Alan Cheers Mike


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