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Authors like Charles Bukowski – Tales from the Underbelly

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorIf you like the honest and unflinching look at the lives of those on the fringes of society that is found in the novels of Charles Bukowski, similar authors include the equally candid James Kelman, Hubert Selby Jnr or Fyodor Dostoevsky. ~ Jonny Sweet
Traditionally, the novel as a format was sort of like a Victorian celebrity reality TV show in paperback format; a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with which the upper classes could amuse themselves. For examples, see the aristocratic subject matter of Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, Alexandre Dumas and their contemporaries.

However, with the proliferation of literacy among the poorer classes, more relatable themes and characters became increasingly in demand. Charles Dickens was one of the pioneers in taking the limelight of the privileged few and shining it uncompromisingly on the plight of the impoverished plenty.

Of course, though Dickens endeavoured to publicise the hardships of poverty, his novels are not without an airbrushed and sugar-coated quality. The villains are almost two-dimensional in their villainy; the downtrodden are often stoic and upright despite all odds; the maidens are angels or prostitutes; the action trite and cloying.


Charles Bukowksi, operating in a similar vein to Dickens, also chose to depict the less fortunate members of society – though here, there is no sugar-coating to be found. Bukowski’s characters are presented to the reader in all their repulsive and pathetic humanity; quite literally, warts and all.

This raw reality is one of the reasons why the man has been so popular with several generations and will more than likely continue to enjoy similar success in the decades and centuries to come.

For those aficionados of his work eager to read a similar style, here are four authors like Charles Bukowski in tone, subject matter and, above all, candour.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor DostoevskyIf Leo Tolstoy is like the Russian counterpart to Henry James, Fyodor Dostoevsky is surely the Russian Charles Bukowski.

Like Bukowski’s (anti) hero of many novels, Henry Chinaski, Dostoevsky’s characters are often pushed to the edges of society, despised by their colleagues and fellow human beings, unsure of their place in society.

Dostoevsky is also a master of psychological introspection; his characters often become entangled in webs of their making in the darkest recesses of their own minds as they struggle to integrate themselves into a world in which they clearly don’t belong.

Image source: flickr

James Kelman

James KelmanLike Bukowski, Kelman’s protagonists are often dysfunctional members of society who find it nigh-on impossible to hold down a steady job or avoid squandering away their meagre income on some frivolity, whether it be gambling, alcohol or sex.

Though the settings are different (with Bukowski favouring various parts of America and Kelman preferring his homeland of Scotland), the plight of the common man and his daily dalliance with temptation and poverty are brought to the forefront through these magnificent authors who magnify the mundane.

Image source: flickr

Irvine Welsh

Irvine WelshKelman’s compatriot Welsh is famed for his focus on the underbelly of Scottish society – most notably his famous novel Trainspotting, which was adapted into the excellent movie starring Ewan McGregor.

Welsh’s characters, like Bukowski’s, are not only stranded at the bottom of the social pyramid and ostracised by their fellow men, but also are often of dubious moral quality and enslaved by their vices.

Whereas in Bukowski’s work these vices often manifest themselves in the form of alcoholism, Welsh’s characters dabble in a bit of everything – but most commonly, hard drugs.

Welsh also uses Scots dialect in his writing, something which may scupper many readers outwith the borders of Caledonia – but which adds an authenticity to the work that Bukowksi’s novels also retain… indeed, this is a trait often found in Scottish fiction.

Image source: goodreads

Hubert Selby Jr

Hubert Selby JrLike Welsh, Hubert Selby Jr also wrote a great novel which was later converted into a wildly popular film (Requiem for a Dream – as well as Last Exit to Brooklyn), and like Welsh, these books also focused on the perils of drug addiction.

It is the no-nonsense, unglamorised look at a sensitive subject which connects Selby Jr to Bukowski, who often approached his writing in a similar manner.

The trio also share a penchant for embarrassing, awkward or downright sickening sex scenes which don’t attempt to “sex up” sex in the way that Hollywood invariably does, instead presenting it as the baffling, messy and often aggressive ordeal that it can be.

Image source: hilobrow

Similar Authors to Bukowski I Didn’t Mention?

Have you read any authors similar to Bukowski recently, which I haven’t included in this article?

By all means, let the rest of us enjoy them as well by leaving a comment below.

I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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