Hogg: The Best and Worst Book I’ve Ever Read?

“I’m not sure whether I should recommend this to you,” one of my supervisors told me as he handed me the book. It was our last meeting before the summer break and he gave me a copy of a book which he described as “notorious”. What’s new, I thought, as I thanked him and put the book in my bag. I’ve made a career out of my love for the weird and the grotesque. Surely I would be able to handle Samuel Delaney’s Hogg. It would probably make a nice seaside read.

I was wrong. Hogg was originally written in the sixties but not published until the nineties. It was deemed to extreme, too pornographic and too disgusting to be published and sold to innocent readers like me. I’ve had my share of shocking literature over the years. Failing to finish Fifty Shades of Grey (badly written, I thought, and rather tame) I nevertheless managed to make my way through, and even enjoy, the likes of Story of O and Story of the Eye. Apparently I can handle some sadomasochism, piercing, and even murder. This, however, did not prepare me for Hogg and its eponymous main character.

Hogg, you see, is a freelance rapist. His juvenile friend Cocksucker describes how the two of them regularly set out to “punish” women who “deserve” to be hurt in ways that exceed even the darkest branches of my imagination. I’m careful to use quotation marks here as almost every opinion expressed in the book is completely and utterly opposed to my own. Yet it is described in graphic detail. Known primarily as a science fiction writer, Delaney does not spare the reader here. Incest, murder, foot worship, urine and shit are almost literally thrown at you until the reading process becomes unbearable. It took me two weeks to finish the book and many people, online reviews suggests, never did.

“It’s both the worst book I’ve ever read and one of the best” a reviewer on Goodreads concludes. I think I agree with her. For despite the absolutely horrendous events described in the novel, there’s a reason I kept on reading. Delaney’s language is beautiful regardless of the vile acts it describes, perhaps making them even more disturbing. But most importantly, Hogg is not an outsider. He is a monster, but he is part of American society and fulfills the needs of people like the wealthy Mr. Jonas, who pays Hogg to rape and beat up several women. Perhaps that is what kept me going: the uncanny realization that despite the story’s fictionality society might have its own Hoggs. Not a very comforting thought to have while you’re supposed to enjoy your holiday. I sure needed a lot of icecream to comfort myself after finishing this deeply disturbing book. 

 

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