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Last Exit to Brooklyn

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  28,419 ratings  ·  1,218 reviews
Few novels have caused as much debate as Hubert Selby Jr.'s notorious masterpiece, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and this Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting.

Described by various reviewers as hellish and obscene, Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of New Yorkers who at every turn confront the worst excesses in hum
Paperback, 290 pages
Published 2000 by Marion Boyars (first published 1964)
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Jim Puskas Years ago, when I first read this book, it was like a kick in the gut. What stays with you over time is a feeling of sorrow for lost, fucked-up lives.…moreYears ago, when I first read this book, it was like a kick in the gut. What stays with you over time is a feeling of sorrow for lost, fucked-up lives. But to my surprise, the book left an echo of hope, probably because if people could survive all that, it proves the strength of the human spirit.(less)
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Kendall Moore Overdose and a broken heart.

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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Society of Laws

The pomposity of the literary establishment in the 1960’s was as bad as it ever has been. I can recall my encounter, as a twenty year old, with Last Exit. But before I bought it, I got a copy of the New York Times review. ‘Another Grove Press porno piece,’ or something roughly equivalent is what I remember. So I ignored the book for the next 50 years. A big mistake, only to be excused by lack of experience. As Sam Goldwyn put it: “Don’t pay any attention to the critics; don’t ev
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The harrowing portraits of men hating women, mothers loathing their children, & the truly devastating absence of love. A phenomenal work of art that's raw, revolting, & insidious. Owes a large debt to the dementedness of M. de Sade, though the prose--as stark and jarring, as opaque, as a broken shard of obsidian--is just damn Beautiful.

I can hear from my window some kind of Requiem suddenly coming on...
Paul Bryant
Oct 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Velvet Underground fans
Shelves: novels
This novel was like a car packed with high explosives and driven into the middle of American literature and left there to explode in a fireball of nitroglycerine sentences containing jagged ugly words which could shear your mind in two. I can't believe how powerful it still is, I read it years ago and it seared my thoughts and turned me inside out, and it practically did the same again even though a lot of cruelty and evil violence and scenes of underclass horror have flowed from other writers o ...more
Barry Pierce
This book is an assault.
Thematically it’s an assault.
Stylistically it’s an assault.
Emotionally it’s an assault.
So reading Last Exit to Brooklyn and enjoying it, like I very much did, could be akin to a kind of literary Stockholm syndrome.

Less a novel and more a collection of vignettes, Selby Jr.’s first major work is a dark, depressing, visceral, gruff, and scroungy account of the lives of some of the most depraved and tragic characters this side of Shakespeare. Perhaps the most famous book t
Apr 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nausea swim team
Shelves: druuugs
Rare is the book that leaves me so disoriented and raw-nerved. When I finished this I sat slack-jawed for a minute letting my cigarette burn out and trying to fix my mind on something/anything. This is an excruciatingly penetrating vision of the total dregs; a narrative of self-delusion, rough trade, addiction and thanatos thanatos thanatos. Selby, Jr. never seems to slant toward exploitation or pulp and strangely enough, in spite of the godawful hopeless hate-filled suckers that populate his wr ...more
Steven Godin
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Had I read this at the time of release in 1964 it would have seemed like being struck by a lightning bolt from hell where one was made to feel sick, disgusted and appalled by it's graphic depiction of pretty much the worst that human behaviour has to offer. Fast forward to 2015 and nothing has changed, this is a shocking, gut-wrenching read which creates a vision of hell on earth for a bunch of New Yorkers who are just about as far away from the american dream as possible. Selby Jr was a genius ...more
May 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Good God, this is a brutal book. The writing style's brilliant, but the stories are so vivid that the pain of the characters is visceral. It's not a novel so much as it's a series of short stories that tie together to portray the hell-hole that was 1950's Brooklyn. There was a whole obscenity case about this book when it was published in the early 1960's: the story that received the most attention for being obscene, however, was not the one I found most painful. The most infamous story was "Tral ...more
MJ Nicholls
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, merkins
A searing sift through the slurried slums of post-war Brooklyn. The only book that uses shock, violence and vulgarity to depict a world of tragic isolation that truly pierces the heart, gets you so deeply you feel you are THERE, in this boneyard of brittle bones and broken bodies, crying and fighting and fucking and SHOUTING AT YER FREAKIN KIDS TA SHUT THERE TRAPS.

Selby's editor on this book was Gilbert Sorrentino, who helped Selby refine his extraordinarily precise style, his pitch-perfect dia
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I hereby announce that this novel has won my lifetime award for unique descriptions of debasement and viciousness. Nevertheless, while being severely repulsed, I did admire the book for its excellent and innovative writing.
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have just reread Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) for my book group, having first read it umpteen years ago, and it is still a powerful and disturbing experience, though time has reduced the impact of its graphic tales of drugs, street violence, gang rape, homosexuality, transvestism and domestic violence.

As I was rereading I was struck by the parallels with Trainspotting (1993): both in the depiction of street life and the extensive use of an unpunctuated vernacular. What Last Exit to Brooklyn l
Grabbed this from my stash Saturday evening and started blazing through it, rapt! Could not put it down. Finished Sunday...

Uncompromising portrait of petty slothfulness and violence in grim Brooklyn in the 1950s. The 1989 Jennifer Jason Leigh film was fine and disturbing, but it can't capture the earnest immediacy of this book and the machine-gun style of expression of the colloquialisms and the stream of consciousness. This is masterly, it seems to have flowed off Selby's
K.D. Absolutely
Jan 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books (Modern Fiction)
My second Selby and I was just as amazed. My first one of him was his 1978-published book, Requiem for a Dream (4 stars also).

Hubert Selby, Jr. (1928-2004) wrote like no other or maybe I have not encountered those "others" yet. I have encountered Saramago's and Garcia Marquez's novels with practically no punctuation marks. Selby's had some but he substituted apostrophes with forward slashes "/". According to Wiki, Selby's reason for this was the symbol's proximity to his typewriter, thus allowi
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
It is wrong that Last Exit to Brooklyn didn't shock me as much with its events as its insight? I don't mean to sound all rough and tough, I grew up in a working class Chicago neighborhood, but I knew people a couple steps removed from Selby's characters. Maybe people feel better when they frame the Last Exit to Brooklyn universe as far away from home, but the novel's power's in the transposition of the darkness to the every day. I mean, there are people feel the same as these characters all arou ...more
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Hubert Selby's travelogue brings you deep into an exotic land you've never visited before. I mean, technically Sunset Park in Brooklyn is like ten minutes away on foot, but Brooklyn's come a long way in forty years and I don't know anyone like anyone in this book, which is great for me because there is an awful lot of rape going on.

And the thing is that Selby is such a terrific observer of people, and he has this wonderful sympathy for them, so he gets you inside even the most loathsome of chara
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Aug 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An truly unsettling read, as all of the Selby I've read to date has been. Nauseating at some points.

One thing I remember about this book was that the explicit spelling out of gruff, blue collar, New Yawk accents (kind of like the NYC equivalent to the way that Mark Twain captured thick southern accents in Huck Finn, etc) was so grating and constant that I literally was hallucinating (mildly) that everyone around me (in northeast Illinois) was speaking with these accents after setting down the bo
May 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
I read Last Exit to Brooklyn a few years ago, when I actually lived in the titular city and tried to “run” a regular drinking session where my friends and I discussed incest book club. I chose this book for: its reputation, a trusted friend’s personal recommendation, and because Hubert Selby Jr. also wrote Requiem for a Dream (never read, love the movie). Though I generally have a sunny disposition, I also have a penchant for sad songs, movies about addiction, and slutty women. It is a reflectio ...more
Tegan Boundy
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
seriously? there were actually a couple of times I had to put this down because it was so brutal it was scaring me, it literally made my heart race, but not in a 'spooky' scary, it was in a 'wow this actually is happening somewhere in the world', it has such an air of truth about it that it gave me shivers on multiple occasions. absolutely amazing book. ...more
Nate D
Sep 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Irvine Welsh readers
Recommended to Nate D by: Maya, indirrectly by leaving it in the living room
I'd previously thought that recent authors chronicling amoral and desperate lives in blunt direct terms (say, Bret Easton Ellis and Irvine Welsh) owed a lot to Bukowski in particular. But Last Exit to Brooklyn both predates Bukowski's first novel and points most directly ahead to the likes of Trainspotting. Except this is more obliteratingly bitter, more deathly demoralizing. Selby's vision is positively apocalyptic, but only in the most frighteningly believable terms. ...more
Vincent Kaprat
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
There are two books that every wholesome American boy and girl should read: The Grapes of Wrath and The Last Exit to Brooklyn. This is quintessential Americana mixed with broken hearts and broken teeth.
Beregond 3019
Aug 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have ever read, hands down. I discovered it at a time where I was aching to find the style that best suited me as a reader, the genre above all others that roped me in and never let go. Selby helped me find it.

After reading the inside of the box for the film, "Requiem for a Dream", I was compelled to find this book that Darren Aronofsky, the director, adored so much. He was from Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn that is described here, so it certainly has much more meaning for
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book turned me into a transparent, impalpable entity and sent me back in time to the harsh, ruthless but incredibly alive quarter of Brooklyn in the 1950's; letting me observe a number of local souls going about their daily life, struggling to survive, trying to grasp pleasure and avoid pain whenever they can, dealing with their internal demons while the world around them continues its eternal assault. There is no pity, no forgiveness, no respect to be expected where weakness is shown, inst ...more
Jul 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is brutal, but fantastic!! There are no likeable characters here, but you can't help but feel sorry for the desperate situations they are in at times. A portrayal of the nastiest, lowest forms of character amongst us. A much cruder version of the human conditions that Emile Zola wrote about almost a century previous to this.

I'm wondering why I've not read this before now. Looking forward to reading more of his work.
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: purchased
My first book by Shelby Jr. And definitely not the last. I need to read Requiem for a dream by him after this, as it is one of my favourite movies and I have come to love his style of writing. This book provides ample glimpse of the obsessive and the Underground that is prominently featured in Requiem for a dream.

The book is structured into parts that are introduced with a verse from the Bible and the contents are anything but moral; in a way they are, as it showcases the frailty of mortality an
Feb 05, 2020 added it
Shelves: abandoned, fiction
What a nasty,ugly and unpalatable book. But it's not an easy one to forget about,thanks to these very attributes.

On the one hand,it is supposedly a cult classic. On the other hand,it faced obscenity charges,and is very controversial. The author was a drug user,he was sick,and he was pretty desperate.
He figured that he knew the alphabet,so he might as well try his hand at writing.

It's not pretty writing,there are expletives galore. The language takes a fair bit of deciphering. It's jarring prose,
Oct 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
I grew up in Brooklyn, and I live here now- so people are sometimes impressed by the length of my tenure and my selection of "back in the early 1980s" stories. At least until they realize that I'm from Park Slope, which is like being from the Upper West Side of Manhattan- sure, it probably had its rough spots, but no one is ever going to give you credit for surviving the rough streets of Riverside Drive. This is particularly true when you run into someone else who grew up in Brooklyn, and play t ...more
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the most scarring books I've ever had the fortune (yes, you read that right) to read. This book is like a brief trip to hell. It's full of the absolute worst humans imaginable- cruel, brutish, stupid, common, empty meat-suits- and yet you get no pleasure from their screams. In fact, their lack of humanity makes their horrifying lives even worse, because they don't even seem to know how appalling their circumstances are. This book combines the drawn-out frustration of Kafka's Castle ...more
Paul Secor
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-cuts
Brutal and haunting.

I read one or two of the sections of this book years ago in Evergreen Review and then I read the entire book. That was many years ago, but the writing is still imprinted in my mind. This would either be a five star book - it's remained with me for all of these years - or a one star - I can't imagine wanting to read it again.
I'll go with five stars because any book that has that kind of effect on me deserves five.

Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: literary classics, 20th century fiction, American existentialism
Controversy has always surrounded Selby's writing. From the start, with Last Exit to Brooklyn - his first novel - his original UK publisher Calder and Boyers faced government prosecution in 1967, under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. It was a major trial, especially as it was originally found guilty of being `obscene', and because, more importantly, the appeal in 1968 overturned that decision and paved the way for a much more open-minded interpretation of literature as to merit.

In some interv
Apr 17, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-reads
I can picture this book being read in college literature classes. I am sure that it deserves its place in modern American Literature and I am also sure that this book and Selby have their fans. I won't dispute his genius. My rating is not based on the "merit" of the book, but on whether I liked it and the truth is that I found this book to be repulsive and nauseating. I think that I was expecting it to be sort of like Kennedy's Iron Weed (which I liked) but much darker but Last Exit isn't dark-- ...more
Aug 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
The high ratings and high praise for this book put me in mind of the following scenario: a group of people stand around a display at a gallery - simply, a pile of shit upon a table. The idiots surrounding the table do not dare to let the others know their hidden truth: they don't (don/t) get it, it looks like shit to them! No one wants to be the first and possibly look the fool, so they begin to ascribe to it those catch-phrase buzzwords they've heard others use in similar situations. Brutal! Tr ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Done - Please add description in French 2 15 Oct 12, 2019 08:14AM  
Transgressive Fic...: 5 Controversial Transgressive Novels 3 60 Apr 23, 2018 12:15AM  
Transgressive Fic...: Last exit to Brooklyn 24 46 Oct 28, 2014 06:36AM  
Depressing yet Fascinating 23 142 Jan 04, 2014 10:57PM  
The Bookhouse Boys: Last Exit to Brooklyn Giveaway/Discussion 106 41 Feb 18, 2013 08:36PM  

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Hubert Selby, Jr. was born in Brooklyn and went to sea as a merchant marine while still in his teens. Laid low by lung disease, he was, after a decade of hospitalizations, written off as a goner and sent home to die. Deciding instead to live, but having no way to make a living, he came to a realization that would change the course of literature: "I knew the alphabet. Maybe I could be a writer." Dr ...more

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