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Cain's Book

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  553 ratings  ·  43 reviews
This is the journal of Joe Necchi, a junkie living on a barge that plies the rivers and bays of New York. Joe’s world is the half-world of drugs and addicts—the world of furtive fixes in sordid Harlem apartments, of police pursuits down deserted subway stations. Junk for Necchi, however, is a tool, freely chosen and fully justified; he is Cain, the malcontent, the profliga ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published November 11th 1993 by Grove Press (first published 1960)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  553 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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MJ Nicholls
Trocchi’s final and most fêted work (apart from the odds-and-ends poetry shambles, Man at Leisure, also republished by Alma Classics), is a fragmented and not entirely unpretentious novel-of-sorts that seems to be more of a deeply psychological exploration of the author’s uncompromising outsider’s worldview than any sort of seminal “drug” novel as labelled by most, including Burroughs. The drug use is a mere fact of life and incidental to the more interesting business of what this scow-dwelling ...more
Vit Babenco
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Cain at his orisons, Narcissus at his mirror.”
Time is fragmented, space is broken – the addict's world is without causes or effects…
“No doubt I shall go on writing, stumbling across tundras of unmeaning, planting words like bloody flags in my wake. Loose ends, things unrelated, shifts, nightmare journeys, cities arrived at and left, meetings, desertions, betrayals, all manner of unions, adulteries, triumphs, defeats… these are the facts.”
Chaotic memories, spasmodic events, sporadic visions – th
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book wasn't at all what I expected. Junkie lit, no matter how good, can't help being formulaic. Those Mission Impossible episodes where Barnie play-acts the sweat-soaked terrors of withdrawal represents one end of the continuum. French Connection 2, Panic in Needle Park, Trainspotting, the dirty cottons of William Burroughs' oeuvre, and so on, nod off along various parts of this continuum and we know every station of this cross. It's part of our folklore.
I don't know exactly what the junki
Ade Bailey
Let's cut through the dread the moral authorities and sensibilities of timid readers which reacted against this book on its publication. Yes, horror of horrors, people do have sex, sometimes frequently, and they do take drugs. While not wanting to labour the point of the latter or offer any value judgment, I refer you to Trocchi's own polemic. That very dread (hatred is of dread) is more the point than the object of terror:

When he thinks in terms of kicking he’s hooked.
There are degrees of addic
RC Edrington
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It was this book alone that convinced me that the life playing out between my ears needed release onto paper.
Lee Foust
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A remarkable novel by just about any standard. Forget those who say it's about addiction: It is not. It is rather an honest attempt to place a troubled and rebellious human consciousness into a literary space between the many false value systems offered it by all of the anti-existentialist power structures: the ethos of the capitalist religion of work, the moralist conformity of marriage, and all of the modern bourgeois and patriotic constructions of place, of nationality, of sexual mores, of cl ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bought
I have no memory of reading this book in the past, but it seems that I had read it some years ago. Nevertheless, I purchased this copy at the Red Wheelbarrow in Paris last week. It's excellent, because the character of Alexander Trocchi is on every page, and he himself is a fascinating figure. One could call this a junkie's memoir or journal, but it is much more than that. It's a portrait of a man who is floating between what culture wants him to be, and the refusal of that society. There is no ...more
Caroline Bertaud
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a book like no other, with a writing so sharp, a precise focus of details you weren't even aware about, it's like Trocchi used a scalpel instead of a pen, the acuity really astounding. Having recently seen the movie Limitless, it made me wonder if Trocchi had taken one of those little pills that expand your brain capacities in the movie. This book certainly triggers something in your own brain, whatever that is. As far as the prose is concerned, all the other books I've read lately sudde ...more
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: For those who want to live through other people's lives
Alexander Trocchi is without a doubt is one of the most interesting characters in 20th Century literature. Almost invisible, yet he was at every scene in the post-war years in Europe and America. Tight with the Paris Review crowd, The Situationists, the porn group at Olympia, and drug addict galore.

'Cain's Book' is such a narrative about a junkie - and there have been books on junkie's before, but this one is sort of the iconic original.
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
The best heroin addiction book that exists, because it is much more than a heroin addiction book. If "Junky" weren't already a thinkin man's book, I'd call this the thinkin man's Junky.
So i don't really know what to say besides, go read it.
Feb 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
I read it like 18 years ago, I liked it but I can't really remember anything except for him for being all alone on the barge, and now and then having sex with various other lonely barge operators. ...more
Chris Flakus
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An unapologetic and existential book about addiction that will linger years after it has been read like the persistent symptoms of an incurable disease. Bleak, funny, raw, and honest. Trocchi was a master.
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tori by: Jeremy
I don't remember feeling this torn on how many stars to rate a book on here. I'm going with 4 stars for now because I did enjoy it enough to read it within a 24 hour period. At various points as I read, I thought it might be anywhere from 1 star to 5 stars. I was so angry by the time I was done at the wasted potential. I felt like it could have been so much better than it was. I loved the first half but didn't feel like the second half really added much to the book. In some ways, I thought it wa ...more
Brent Hayward
Sep 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What begins as a junkie's self-indulgent narrative slowly opens up to become a engrossingly nihilistic portrait of a solitary and broken man who has ended up alone on a barge in the Hudson River. A thinly veiled autobiography, Cain's Book is part metafiction, as the writer moves back and forth in time from Scotland, where he grew up in a boarding house, to NYC, either planning or working on the ms, to shooting up H, philosophising about inaction and meaninglessness, and drifting either on the wa ...more
Brendan Boehning
Feb 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
The closest thing to a Situationist novel in existence. Trocchi mined far more poetry out of a peripatetic junkie lifestyle than could ever be expected, and perhaps unsurprisingly, he never published again. Cain's Book finds hidden eddies in the seemingly static water of banal everyday life, and the vistas this book opens up remain hardly explored 50 years on. ...more
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Second read of Trocchi.....very disturbing almost Burroughs-like book about addiction and degradation.....if you love Burroughs you'll love this one...... ...more
Jack Spiegelman
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Book review: cains book

This was many years ago when my wife and I moved to Los Angeles from New York and installed ourselves in a 7 room apt on Berendo street for $175 a month. That is correct. My wife got a job and I opted to stay home and write—or try to.

Each day I would sit down at the typer to bang and I would try this sentence and that sentence and the other sentence but it was no dice. There was nothing. Writing must have energy. Here there was the energy of a piece of pocket lint. It was
Glass River
Jun 15, 2020 marked it as fic-guided
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Side Real Press
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Although the book preview talks a lot about drugs, this book does not strike me as being essentially upon that topic. For sure, much of the action revolves around the narrator of attaining his next fix but it would seem to me that is the main thrust of the book is about the pleasure of doing, and being, nothing.

The narrator flits between memories of his childhood, especially in regard to his unemployed father and his activities in New York, primarily spent looking for drugs and women but the ma
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was just the best thing ever when I read it as a lost 19 yr old Scot in London.

Cain's Book gets 4 stars from me now these days - the philosophical rants and wraiths are too neither here nor there for me these days. The back of my copy has a blurb that says "all the egomaniac vitality of the early Henry Miller," but Miller was far more joyous and Trocchi a straight and narrow nihilist.

One thing I HATE is when books or authors get stereotyped and pigeon-holed for writing about tab
At the time it was published it was a brutally honest insight into the life of a heroin addict in the fifties. Times have changed and it seems almost quaint now in comparison to the grittier life on the streets that has become more prevalent these days. Provides an important glimpse of a time when there were perhaps other possibilities for how 20th century culture could have formed. The Artists life.
Dozy Pilchard
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I re-read this book every ten years or so and have done since I was a teenager (I'm approaching 50 now). I see it totally differently every time I come back to it. I find the isolation in it refreshing. It is a world in itself, part liberation, part desperation. Quite a tale. ...more
Kobe Bryant
May 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
He should have stuck to writing about the barge life
Oct 05, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: university
wow i really hated this
the only reason why i finished it was because it was for uni
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Couldn't get into this - perhaps I'm burned out on junk-related tales for the time being. ...more
Sep 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Plotless story about heroin addiction in the 1950s.
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Drugs are for wackos, kids.
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-this, idlers
Trocchi took a public approach to doing taking something very, very dangerous. Heroin makes him an outlaw: “The hysterical gymnastics of governments confronting the problem of the atomic bomb is duplicated exactly in their confrontation of heroin” (41). You can watch videos online of Trocchi shooting up that were aired live on television but he’s not a vigorous cowboy. He takes a serious approach to being exactly the opposite. Unserious. This whole idea is to be a functional dropout by engaging ...more
Tom Cöle
Jan 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Good grief, what overrated dross. Navel-gazing twaddle with absolutely nothing to recommend it. There's no real narrative to speak of; nothing happens; there aren't any penetrating psychological insights; the characters the narrator meets with are pseudonymous and poorly drawn. I tried to find a copy of this for years without success and am truly grateful I didn't cave in to the urge to pay £20 or more for it second-hand on Amazon. Trocchi sounds like an interesting character, to judge from his ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book is supposed to be something of a cult novel about drug addiction, but I must say I don't see the appeal. I enjoyed the parts of the book with more plot and story, like the memories of his father and his interactions with other junkies, but I was bored every time Trocchi waxed poetic about his drug use. As a person who tends more towards plot and story, I can see why this book may appeal to someone else, but not to me. Many people praise the language and his power of description, which ...more
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Alexander Trocchi was a Scottish novelist. He lived in Paris in the early 1950s and edited the literary magazine Merlin, which published Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Christopher Logue and Pablo Neruda, among others. Although he was never published in Merlin, American writer Terry Southern (who lived in Paris from 1948-1952) became a close friend of both Trocchi and his colleague Richard Seaver, a ...more

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161 likes · 41 comments
“It provides the police with something to do, and as junkies and potheads are relatively easy to apprehend because they have to take so many chances to get hold of their drugs, a heroic police can make spectacular arrests, lawyers can do a brisk business, judges can make speeches, the big pedlars can make a fortune, the tabloids can sell millions of copies. John Citizen can sit back feeling exonerated and watch evil get its deserts. That's the junk scene, man. Everyone gets something out of it except the junkie. If he's lucky he can creep round the corner and get a fix. But it wasn't the junk that made him creep. ” 9 likes
“Don’t talk like an alcoholic.” But it’s like telling a man inflicted with infantile paralysis to run a hundred yards. Without the stuff Tom’s face takes on a strained expression; as the effect of the last fix wears off all grace dies within him. He becomes a dead thing. For him, ordinary consciousness is like a slow desert at the centre of his being; his emptiness is suffocating. He tries to drink, to think of women, to remain interested, but his expression becomes shifty. The one vital coil in him is the bitter knowledge that he can choose to fix again. I have watched him. At the beginning he’s over-confident. He laughs too much. But soon he falls silent and hovers restlessly at the edge of a conversation, as though he were waiting for the void of the drugless present to be miraculously filled. (What would you do all day if you didn’t have to look for a fix?) He is like a child dying of boredom, waiting for promised relief, until his expression becomes sullen. Then, when his face takes on a disdainful expression, I know he has decided to go and look for a fix.” 0 likes
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