‘Addiction’, ‘craving’, ‘dependence’, ‘enslavement’, ‘habit’, ‘obsession’ these are some of the many ways of describing a persons need for something or someone. Addiction and the way it’s presented is the main focus of two books, ‘Junk’ by Melvin Burgess a contempary novel written in 1996 and ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a short story from the Sherlock Holmes series written in 1892. I will be comparing the two similarly themed stories and discuss how they show images of addiction.
Both of the books use many different techniques to make the story as realistic and believable as possible. In Junk each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character in the 1st person
narrative. This style of writing gives the story a lot of credibility and often involves different characters telling the same event but from a completely different perspective. This is not just very interesting for the reader: it also gives you the chance to get deep into the characters heads and to find out what they are thinking. You can also formulate your own opinions of characters as many of them, particularly Gemma, really involve the reader and try to talk them round to their points of view. In contrast ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ is very formal and written throughout by the same character, Dr Watson. The details are very precisely written like a report of what has happened with constant references to street names and timings to give the effect that everything in the story has really happened one example is ‘found herself exactly at 4:35 walking through Swandom Lane on her way back to the station’.
Another method the authors use to convey a sense of realism is the language. In ‘Junk’ there is a lot of teenage slang and swearing both in the dialogue and the text itself, which adds a sense that you are getting the full truth however disturbing it may be, not a sugar coated version. I also thought that the way the story was written as if the characters were talking to you worked really well because you
felt the characters were telling you, not just writing it down. Another important aspect of creating realism from the language was the way the characters began to use ‘junkie slang’, drug terminology,
unheard of at the beginning of the novel but common place by the end. This really helped to show how the lives of the main characters had really changed as the book progressed. Cultural references are also
important because they help people to relate to the story and put the events into a certain time period. I think that all these factors were extremely important in making ‘Junk’ very realistic. In ‘the man with
the twisted lip’ there are many words, which would be deemed very shocking for the reader at the time but were used with comfort in the text. Words such as ‘dens’ and ‘orgies’ were very powerful and controversial when the book was written and would have been somewhat disturbing for the reader to hear of such things. The descriptions and imagery are used to convey a very anti-drugs message, for example ‘I saw Whitney, pale, haggard and unkemptâ€¦’ this is the effect that drugs have on a wise and noble man. However ‘Junk’ takes a very different approach it’s very down to earth and understates things, which are hugely disturbing, which in my opinion conveys an even more anti-drugs message. But on the subject of language in ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ it is often very repetitive in style in an attempt to really get the image of drug addiction over to the reader though it could be seen as being rather melodramatic. The author often uses superlatives to describe the awful state, which opium leaves its users in and the imagery is often very sensory with descriptions relating to things the reader would be more familiar with to help create a strong picture of what’s being described. One example of the imagery of hell portrayed in ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ is ‘Through the gloom one could dimly catch glimpse of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back and chins pointing upwards, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the new-comer’. This sort of language presents a very strong image of the den being like an evil hellish place. The portrayal of Isa Whitney is also important in ‘The Man With Twisted Lip’. Whitney is portrayed as being very different to Holmes, I think this is to help make Holmes look better and Whitney look worse. Whitney is shown to be very addicted and quite weak, a man who has lost control of his addiction.
One of the main differences between ‘Junk’ and ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ is the length of the stories, because ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ is a short story the characters and situations do not
progress as much as those in ‘Junk’. For example when we meet Gemma at the beginning of the book she seems as if she is just a normal teenager but as the book progresses she runs away from home, becomes a junkie, works as a prostitute and even has a child and she is still only 18. In the end Gemma goes almost full circle and ends up living back at home in Minely. Although a lot happens to the characters it is not particularly noticeable, you don’t realise how much they’ve changed into you look back at how they were in the beginning. This is because you get carried along with the story and the way the characters decline into becoming addicts is generally understated. But Melvin Burgess does give you reminders that however normal the main characters think their lives are we are shown they are anything but, he does this in a number of ways. Firstly there are the narratives of the minor characters such as Richard, Vonny and Skolly these characters can give you a clear picture of what is happening to Tar, Gemma, Lily and Rob, because they are giving an account as outsiders and generally aren’t involved in what’s going on. One such example is when Skolly sees Tar being loaded into the back of a police car: ‘It was only David. It was only that lad I’d given to Richard a few years before. I thought, bugger me, you’ve come a long way and most of it’s been straight down…’ These minor characters narratives really keep the story in perspective. The book also includes a lot of irony often the readers view of events is the opposite of how the characters feel. Something else, which is hugely important in showing the reader, the dreadful situations that the characters find themselves in are the emotive style of writing, occasionally used. Always very powerful and graphic with the intent to shock the reader ‘She was lying on the bed and I thought she was asleep but she was this strange colour. Blue.’ The passage goes on to describe the black blood oozing from Lily’s arm. These passages have a very powerful effect. Often the author uses short sentences to really emphasise important parts such as ‘we never even spent the second night’ this sentence is particularly important because it shows how helpless the characters have become in their fight against drug addiction. Age is another important aspect, and we are constantly subtley reminded how young these characters really are.
I felt that the main characters in ‘Junk’ were all very interesting and realistic and weren’t just stereotypical Junkies. At the start of the book I really liked Tar and had a lot of sympathy for him. He was nave, optimistic and somewhat of a romantic but as the book went on and the heroin took hold, he lost these qualities and became a bad addict all the time believing he could quit, but he never could. Of all the characters in the book, Tar was the weakest. He couldn’t stand up against his father or his mother and once he was addicted to heroin there was really no hope for him. As for the love affair between him
and Gemma, I don’t think it was real love they just clung together for support, and whenever times were rough they used their symbol of happier times, the ‘dandelion’ to make it all go away, but it didn’t. I don’t believe Gemma ever really loved Tar, I think she was just using him, waiting for the real love of her life to arrive. I didn’t like Gemma because I thought she was extremely manipulative, for example when she says ‘I decided it was time to do sugar-sugar. I apologised, whimpered and flung my arms around him and gave him a hug and a kiss’ she really knows how to wrap people round her finger and her actions are usually very calculated. I feel she is very strong-minded and quite intelligent which is why she is perhaps the only one who can begin a new life without Junk. She also often talks directly to the reader and tries to persuade them to think like her and often puts up a very good argument ‘all for less than Lily can earn in half an hour. Who’s the sucker?’ she often poses questions like that to get the reader thinking. Gemma is a very interesting character but I didn’t like her, however I did like her ‘soul sister’
Lily. She always seemed so happy and positive and had real presence in a room and was the life and soul of any party. However under all this confidence, she was hiding someone who was scared, confused and
couldn’t really face the truth about her past or about her drug addiction. Eventually she had to face the truth that she was totally addicted to heroin, the way she really went downhill was quite tragic. We can see this transformation by comparing how Gemma described Lily when she first saw her ‘She was smiling all the time, not at anyone, just to herself and the good time she was having. Her mouth was even wider than mine and her eyes turned into two black, happy little gaps in her face when she smiled. She was beautiful.’ to when Gemma describes Lily near the end ‘She was trying to be normal, but it wasn’t normal. She stood there staring at me, trying to keep her face straight, and as I watched, her eyes filled with tears. Her mouth opened and I knew what she was going to say. She was going to say, ‘Help Me.” Of all the characters Lily’s life was perhaps the most ruined for she had nothing to fall back on, all she had was her poor drugged up baby and maybe Rob. I thought Rob was probably the perfect counter balance for Lily because he is quiet and quite down to earth, I think he helps to keep Lily’s feet on the ground. Despite the fact that he is the quietest of the group I felt that he is the one who was in control I think he was perhaps the father of the substitute family, bring in the money and the Junk. He seemed to be a lot more street-wise than the others and I think he had been a junkie a lot longer than the others. I felt sorry for Emily Brogan, Gemma’s mother because I don’t think she did anything to deserve losing her daughter, except care.
In my opinion one of the best parts of ‘Junk’ was its ending, I liked it because it was a sad ending not a happy one which many books go for, this helped make it even more realistic. With Tar still on heroin
and methadone and hiding it from Carol there was a sad realisation that all the ‘Junkies’ life’s had been ruined I thought this was good and morally correct. The story was also very unpredictable, what I thought would happen didn’t and instead the author did something different which threw whole new scenarios into the plot and posed new questions. In a way the book was quite scary because it makes you think about drugs and prostitution and things that people do and will continue to do in the future.
Both of the texts I have looked at show the images of addiction very differently. In my opinion the one which was most effect was ‘Junk’ simply because it was more believable than ‘The Man With Twisted Lip’. Both texts convey a very anti-drugs message, but again in very different ways. ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ is very melodramatic and really tries to spell out the fact that drugs are bad for you, it is very critical of the drug users and has little time for them. In contrast ‘Junk’ gives you first hand evidence of the effects of drug abuse and asks you to decide for yourself whether drugs are bad. You can really see for yourself how they change rather than being told they have changed. I think for a modern day reader Junk’s approach is far more effective, however in it’s time ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ would also have been successful. However there are similarities between the texts for example they both have certain passages which are very graphic and shock the reader. Overall, I preferred ‘Junk’ to ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ because of a number of reasons. I found ‘Junk’ easier to relate to and I really liked the way Melvin Burgess developed the characters, I didn’t feel that I got to know the characters from ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’ because it was such a short story and I was unfamiliar with the Sherlock Holmes series.
However I thought that despite their contrasting styles and approach both books tackled very serious and controversial issues in a mature way and resulting in a book which was very enjoyable for the reader.