For a long while I gravitated towards tales of the outsider type and Jonathan Whalen is another one, estranged from meaningful experience by character and privilege.
If Camus’s Meursault was an outsider in spite of himself—with no real sense of self, in fact—Kosiński’s Whalen is a self-indulgent one. What they share is a searing honesty, without the least desire to defend their actions or make a favourable impression.
When money and opium and sex are too easily come by, and even murder is an available commodity, Whalen’s hedonistic degeneration demonstrates the emptiness of the materialistic values that he, too, has bought into.
The anti-hero’s freedom from a moral code or sense of obligation can offer a vicarious thrill to the spectator, when they are hard put to find much that is worthwhile or attractive in the society whose rules are being broken. But we do not care about Whalen. He is no rebel and has no cause.
The sparse observational style and diary-like entries describe a blithe, fragmented existence lived in disconnected pieces. Whalen’s fate is not to develop. Like the Devil Tree, he has no roots, and there will be no redemption.