I ordered his most infamous novel, I Was Dora Suarez, a grotesque masterpiece that is said to have made his editor vomit. I read it when it was first published, but hadn’t read it since then until now, and on re-reading it I was struck not by how shocking it is, but by how innocent, and deeply romantic, it is.
The protagonist of the Factory novels is an unnamed detective sergeant. In this book, he investigates the murder of Dora Suarez, a gentle, wounded prostitute who was dying of A.I.D.S. Along the way to finding her killer, he discovers that a London club has been deliberately infecting prostitutes with H.I.V. so that, having nothing to lose, they would have sex with the club’s wealthy, H.I.V.-infected customers.
The most shocking thing about this is that Raymond does not actually realize how evil people can be, as evidenced by his naive belief that rich people with H.I.V. would only have sex with other infected people, when of course the reality is that many of them would just fuck as usual without concern for whom they might infect. Raymond claimed this was based on fact, but it and other details of the brothel strike me as too folkloric. Also, I was in the U.K. and working as a journalist during this period, and am certain I would have heard about such a thing had it actually happened.
The detective — whose child was murdered by his wife - believes that he loves Dora Suarez, whom he never met while she was alive. Of course he is in love with someone he has imagined, based on his readings of her journal, but it is his romantic yearning for her that drives him to find her killer. The detective might be insane, but he is the sanest person in the world he inhabits.
Raymond’s brilliance seems to have been willed into existence. It is astounding that such a bad writer was able to write so many good books. At its best, his prose is clumsy. More often it is amateurish and packed with cliches. I estimate that at least a quarter of this novel consists of the detective’s threatening colleagues with violence and suspects with prison, repeated so many times that it could be mistaken for a parody by Stewart Home. It could make for a drinking game — take a sip every time the detective repeats a threat and you’ll be drunk long before you finish the novel. True, this is a realistic depiction of police behaviour, but it makes for tedious reading.
But there is a sincerity to Raymond’s writing that makes its faults almost irrelevant. While Patrick Millikin was writing his article on Raymond, he remarked to me that he saw some Zen in the detective sergeant. I replied, “There’s a lot of Zen in Raymond’s work. No turning away from suffering, but finding compassion in the most horrific scenarios, and recognising the unreliability of perspective.” The detective’s rage and compassion violently drag the reader through the meandering prose to a place where truth and beauty and love are not ideals but the only enduring actualities.