The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women, A Memoir

James Ellroy

Ellroy’s mother, after whom he lusted, was murdered when he was 10-years-old. Three months earlier, after a falling out during which she had slapped him, the young Ellroy had wished her dead. This is the curse of the title, which was to set him off on a lifelong quest for wholeness and forgiveness at having (as he believed it) caused her death, a life spent seeking atonement in women.

It was to be “a life lived at warp speed”, encompassing alcohol and drug addiction, spells in prison, a breakdown, literary success and women, always women — women spied on, multitudinous one night stands and affairs, and a couple of failed marriages.

While the book is extraordinarily frank, Ellroy seems to take pleasure at times in portraying himself in the worst light possible — the candour is all in the psychology. There are no descriptions of the sex act, no bragging about prowess. The maniacal aspects of his personality are part of a complex weave that also includes a Beethoven-loving romanticism and a sense of honour. A freakish version of it maybe, but honour nonetheless.

Ellroy’s trademark style, his ‘bullet prose’, works a treat in this book. His acrimony, anguish and yearning are compressed and then thrown out as alliterative snorts or shrieks or howls.

Writing the final word of his memoir will set him free, he believes, of the patterns that have marked his life. One can only wish him well. This unsparing book will remain a long time in the memory.

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