Last Exit to Brooklyn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Last Exit to Brooklyn
First edition
AuthorHubert Selby Jr.
Cover artistRoy Kuhlman
CountryUnited States
GenreTransgressive fiction
PublisherGrove Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages320 pp
Followed byThe Room 

Last Exit to Brooklyn is a 1964 novel by American author Hubert Selby Jr. The novel takes a harsh, uncompromising look at lower class Brooklyn in the 1950s written in a brusque, everyman style of prose.[1]

Critics and fellow writers praised the book on its release. Due to its frank portrayals of taboo subjects, such as drug use, street violence, gang rape, homophobia, prostitution and domestic violence it was the subject of an obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and was banned in Italy.


The stories are set almost entirely in what is now considered the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn; the location is widely misreported as Red Hook, where one story is set and parts of the 1989 movie were filmed.[2] Last Exit to Brooklyn is divided into six parts that can, more or less, be read separately. Each part is prefaced with a passage from the Bible.

  • Another Day, Another Dollar: A gang of young Brooklyn hoodlums hang around an all-night diner and get into a vicious fight with a group of Army soldiers on leave.
  • The Queen Is Dead: Georgette, a sassy transgender prostitute, is thrown out of the family home by her homophobic brother and tries to attract the attention of a ruthless hoodlum named Vinnie at a benzedrine-driven party. Georgette dies of a drug overdose after the party.
  • And Baby Makes Three: A story told by an unknown narrator about a couple, Suzy and Tommy, who have a baby out of wedlock, and their wedding, and baby's christening party is quickly thrown by Suzy's parents.
  • Tralala: The title character of an earlier Selby short story, she is a young Brooklyn prostitute who makes a living propositioning sailors in bars and stealing their money. In perhaps the novel's most notorious scene, she is brutally gang-raped after a night of heavy drinking. She is left for dead in a vacant lot and ends up most likely dying.
  • Strike: Harry, a machinist in a factory, becomes a local official in the union. He is a closeted gay man, he abuses his wife, tries to boast of his accomplishments and his high status to anyone who might listen to convince himself that he is a man. He gains a temporary status and importance during a long strike, and uses the union's money to entertain the young street punks and buy the company of drag queens and gay men. He is ultimately beaten viciously by the hoodlums from the opening chapter, after he forcibly fellates a 10-year-old boy.
  • Landsend: Described as a "coda" for the book, this section presents the intertwined, yet ordinary day of numerous denizens in a housing project.


Last Exit to Brooklyn was written in an idiosyncratic style that ignores most conventions of grammar. Selby wrote most of the prose as if it were a story told from one friend to another at a bar rather than a novel, using coarse and casual language. He used slang-like conjunctions of words, such as tahell for "to hell" and yago for "you go." The paragraphs were often written in a stream of consciousness style with many parentheses and fragments. Selby often indented new paragraphs to the middle or end of the line.

Selby did not use quotation marks to distinguish dialogue but instead merely blended it into the text. He used a slash instead of an apostrophe mark for contractions and did not use an apostrophe at all for possessives.

Publication history[edit]

Last Exit to Brooklyn started as The Queen is Dead, one of several short stories Selby wrote about people he had met around Brooklyn while working as a copywriter and general laborer. The piece was published in three literary magazines in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Tralala first appeared in The Provincetown Review in 1961, drawing criticism which resulted in an obscenity trial.[3][4]

The pieces later evolved into the full-length book, which was published in 1964 by Grove Press, which had previously published such controversial authors as William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller.

Critics praised and censured the publication. Poet Allen Ginsberg said that it will "explode like a rusty hellish bombshell over America and still be eagerly read in a hundred years."[5]


The rights for the British edition were acquired by Marion Boyars and John Calder and the novel ended up in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The manuscript was published in January 1966, received positive reviews and sold almost 14,000 copies. The director of Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford complained to the DPP about the detailed depictions of brutality and cruelty in the book but the DPP did not pursue the allegations.

Sir Cyril Black, the then-Conservative Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, initiated a private prosecution of the novel before Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court, under judge Leo Gradwell. The public prosecutor brought an action under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. During the hearing the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate ordered that all copies of the book within the jurisdiction of the magistrates' court be seized. Not a single bookseller possessed a copy, but the publishing offices of Calder and Boyars, within the Bow Street Magistrate's jurisdiction, were discovered to be in possession of three copies. The books were duly seized, and Boyars was summoned to show cause why they should not be forfeited.[6] Expert witnesses spoke, "unprecedentedly,"[7] for the prosecution: they included the publishers Sir Basil Blackwell and Robert Maxwell.[7] On the defense side were the scholars Al Alvarez II, and Professor Frank Kermode, who had previously compared the work to Charles Dickens. Others who provided rebuttal evidence included H. Montgomery Hyde.[8]

The order had no effect beyond the borders of the Marlborough Street Court, the London neighborhood of Soho. At the hearing Calder declared that the book would continue to be published and would be sold everywhere else outside of that jurisdiction. In response the prosecutor brought criminal charges under Section 2 of the Act, which entitled the defendants to trial by jury under Section 4.[7]

The jury was all male. Judge Graham Rigers directed that the women "might be embarrassed at having to read a book which dealt with homosexuality, prostitution, drug-taking and sexual perversion."[9] The trial lasted nine days; on November 23 the jury returned a guilty verdict.

In 1968, an appeal issued by lawyer and writer John Mortimer resulted in a judgment by Justice Geoffrey Lane that reversed the ruling. The case marked a turning point in British censorship laws. By that time, the novel had sold over 33,000 hardback and 500,000 paperback copies in the United States.[citation needed]

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1989, director Uli Edel helmed a film adaptation of the novel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DePalma, Anthony. "Hubert Selby Jr. Dies at 75; Wrote 'Last Exit to Brooklyn'", The New York Times, April 27, 2004.
  2. ^ "Fifty Years Later, Looking for Last Exit: Chasing Hubert Selby’s ghost through the neighborhood he captured in his controversial classic." by Henry Stewart. BKLYNR Issue 36 | October 10, 2014
  3. ^ Depalma, Anthony (2004-04-27). "Hubert Selby Jr. Dies at 75; Wrote 'Last Exit to Brooklyn'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-08-24.
  4. ^ Simpson II, Tyrone R. (2011). Ghetto Images in Twentieth Century American Literature. London, UK: Palgrave. p. 85. ISBN 978-0230115934.
  5. ^ Homberger, Eric (28 April 2004). "Hubert Selby Jr". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Forell, Claude. "A Noble Crusader for Purity." The Age Literary Review, Archived 2003-01-17 at the Wayback Machine March 25, 1967.
  7. ^ a b c Newburn, Tim (1992). Permission and Regulation: Law and Morals in Post-War Britain. London: Routledge, pp. 96–8. Google Books
  8. ^ H. Montgomery Hyde, Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Times, 6 December 1967
  9. ^ "Obituaries: Hubert Selby, Jr.", The Times, April 28, 2004.
  10. ^ Luerssen, John D. (2015). The Smiths FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Most Important British Band of the 1980s. Backbeat Books. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-4803-9449-0.