Goodreads review: The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of WomenThe Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hard on the heels of my reading of My Dark Places comes this, a second exploration of the role of women in author James Ellroy’s life.

You probably won’t want to read it if you’re sick of jacking-off-and-peeping stories. Because – though they’re not as explicitly described as elsewhere – they’re here. That and darkened-room fantasising. The short book reeks of control; of others, of self, and the lack thereof.

Ideally, this should be read in concert with My Dark Places. That book explains the importance of the murder of Ellroy’s mother, and its effect on his life. The Hilliker Curse moves past the mechanics of the death and into how his relationships with women have played out over the years. True, his mother is looming, forever, but this installment looks at how her shadow touches her son’s interactions with women.

(Protip: they generally don’t end well.)

The author is candid, though. He recounts destructions wrought by his own shitty behaviour with unflinching honesty. There’s a sense of regret and of fear – particularly when discussing panic attacks while on tour. It’s a portrait – much more than in My Dark Places – of collapse, where that book is a recitation of focus and construction. This is a guy with money, success, and a collapsing life. Yet he never plays the sympathy card, and his masochism is never presented as admirable. It just is.

One part which interested was the role Beethoven plays in Ellroy’s life. It could be vanity, equating oneself with one of the Greatest Artists (and Arseholes) Who Ever Lived, but I think here it’s a whole kindred-spirit thing. Beethoven had his ‘Immortal Beloved’ and Ellroy has his fantasy women: all separate, yet all curiously interchangeable. I like the image of the two men being arseholes together, a brotherhood of bastards.

I wonder if Ellroy’s planning another volume of autobiographical work? This one was a pleasant surprise, given the gruelling nature of My Dark Places, and it’d be interesting to see whether the LOVE LOVE LOVE notes of the newish relationship at the end of the book hold out, or whether it’s back to dark rooms and self-abuse.

Either way, it’d be entertaining and horrifying in equal measure.

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