Lincoln Townley’s ‘The Hunger’ is a brutally honest depiction of his years spent in SoHo, drinking, whoring and snorting. Townley carries us through some of the most memorable experiences of this time, as well as many of the fantasies and hallucinations that haunted his mind as he struggled with his addiction. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this novel and having finished it I can’t say I’m any more enlightened as to how I feel about it. But, here are a couple of points I picked up.
It took me a while to get used to the structure of ‘The Hunger’, as it jumped about a lot in time through the narrator’s periods of lucidity. Each passage is titled with the time, date and year, but it’s pretty impossible to keep up with that in relation to the other parts of the book. After a while though I just ignored the timings and embraced the whirlwind nature of the book, accepting that it all happened during one messy period and that, really, the particular times and dates don’t matter at all. Once I relaxed into this it became a far easier read and I enjoyed the flow. Whether one thing happened before the other doesn’t make any difference to most of the narrative.
The brilliance of this book lies in the construction of Esurio: the multi-dimensional, maniacal personification of ‘The Hunger’ – addiction. He starts off as this suave, intriguing character and slowly evolves into something worse throughout the novel. His initial seduction is spellbinding; the way that he convinces Lincoln he is somehow ‘special’ and invincible in ways other people are not. As he gets worse the old-time, well-dressed gentleman begins to shift into something more animalistic and terrifying. At the points where he starts to scream ‘FEED ME LINCOLN, FEED ME’ you can almost hear it yourself, the rage swelling across the pages. It is a fascinating insight into the psychology of addiction.
The most impactful aspect is, without a doubt, the truthfulness of the story. You completely forget when you are reading and can even start to criticise the plot, but then you take a step back and realise every word is true (Esurio is fictional, of course, but his influence is real). At this moment you are really hit with the pain that emanates from the book, the idea that these shocking things actually happened and their effect on the narrator. It becomes something truly raw and often painful to read, even those sections that are edged with a definite bitter humour.
The main problem that I encountered whilst reading ‘The Hunger’ was that it becomes repetitive at times. In many ways I can appreciate that this just gives you even more of an insight into addiction: the reader is drawn into the cycle of repeating the same things and hoping for a different result. However, it did start to drag towards the second half and I had to force myself to finish. I have to conclude that is see ‘The Hunger’ as more of a personal venture for the author, as a way of communicating and understanding his past. I pushed myself through it much in the same way Lincoln pushes his way through life towards the end of the novel, but I don’t regret making myself finish the book. It made me laugh and it made me think. The message it portrays is meaningful and I feel partly honoured that the author has chosen to share his journey with us. In the afterword Townley explains his reasoning, gives thanks to his loved ones and leaves us with a fairly poignant warning: ‘Esurio is very patient and as keen to get to know you as he was to get to know me’.