on July 12, 2010
Mr Smith writing as Smith is amusing, a simple pleasure simlar to reading Wodehouse, when he is Mr Lear his popular subject matter (sex) can be a little repetitive, but then perhaps I am showing my age.
This new novel intertwines the stories of Michael and Robert by shifting subsequent chapters from the 1950s to the 2000s and back using the characters to juxtapose the predominant popular images of gay life from these periods.
Michael Medway is a young artistic conscript undertaking his national service in the austere post-war late 1950s. He is alarmed by the very camp advances of a fellow RAF recruit (Stephen) who is subject to bullying and humiliation and determined to exploit his sexuality to obtain an early exit.
At the same time, Michael is slowly but conflictedly seduced by the hyper masculine boxing champ at the base.
Meanwhile, some 50 years later, Robbie is living an empty post-gay new milenium drug, gym and sex fueled life in contemporary London. His best friend Johnathon/Nate (depending on whom he is with at the time)is a vacuous, selfish and shallow fashion victim and Rob's erstwhile boyfriend Stuart is a drug and body obsessed sex bully.
Some of the themes here are being picked up in a clutch of recent fiction and non fiction (see 'Rare Bird of Truth' by Neil Drinnan and for a non fiction account there is 'Whatever Happened to Gay Life?')and they paint a bleak picture of the modern gays living hollow lives with endless drug and sex parties. I wont go into a critique of this here because I think this book should be taken on face value more than as an in depth social commentary.
This was an enjoyable read over a couple of sittings which will appeal to a range of ages. The characterisations are a sugary confection, easy to digest and instantly satisfying but perhaps leaving you wanting for a little more depth.
The younger reader will recognise the post-gay characters as their own contemporaries, the older will perhaps remember a version of the pre-gay life depicted, and the middle aged (that's me) who have crossed into both eras through our own experiences with acquaintances and friends will relate as well.
It is well paced and flows easily. The vehicle of Stephen bringing Robbie and Michael together by bundling Robbie into his car to visit Michael who is now Robbie's former neighbour is perhaps a little clumsy in the execution but easily forgivable as it keeps things moving along.
If you want an amusing read, this will entertain. Some food for thought but not too heavy. Reading it while lounging a world away in tropical North Australia I felt comfortably removed, but eerily, even in this little backwater, I can easily recognise a few familiar universal characters.
on February 28, 2013
This book does not begin well. Fashion-conscious and practical joker Jonathan is one of those full-time queens who obsesses over trashy television programmes, clothes, style and talks endlessly about himself; the sort of person you could try telling all your problems too but who wouldn't take any of it in but would reply with a monologue about something utterly trivial.
Fortunately, the book gets better when you are taken back in time to fifty years ago, to men doing their national service. It's a totally different era, where the nearest homosexuals can get to porn is a menswear underwear catalogue and physique photographs sent discreetly by mail order and where the nearest that a sub can get to a dom is when the sergeant major barks, `Fall out for a smoke'. (Ah, those were the days before the smoking ban.)
What we then get is two parallel stories: homosexuals who have to hide because they might end up with a dishonourable discharge or prison and who may contemplate suicide, smoke of whom became politically active and fought for the rights of future gay men, including the right to be as vacuous as Jonathan. (Mind you, the older men had their moments: `My God, what is the world coming to? No gin?)
The underworld of blackmail, cottaging and avoiding arrest contrasts with the brash but superficial world of clubbing and dark rooms. In between these is the hope of a `cure' by lobotomy or aversive conditioning techniques, involving electric shock and nausea-inducing drugs during presentation of same-sex erotic images.
The author paints a vivid picture of the two different eras and the book becomes particularly grace-filled when the two collide: someone from the present era moves into a flat and gets to know his neighbour, who happens to be one of the now-old men from the previous period.
There is a memento mori conversation that we do well to heed: `I suppose I seem terribly old to you, don't I? No, don't say anything. I remember what it's like to be young. You don't think about the past, and as for the future, it's just the next drink, the next party, the next man. At least, it was for me.'
He sighs, and I try to picture him as a twenty-one-year-old.
`Oh, don't you worry, I had my fair share. More than my fair share, as my proctologist can testify: You keep on running, running, running, and then suddenly one day you wake up and you're sixty years old and you're on your own and you wonder what happened to all that fun and all that hope, all those fabulous nights, the outfits, the camping, all....`When you're young, you look at old people and you wonder why they're still breathing and walking around. You just think they are waiting to die. You think we're the past. But I'm telling you, boy, we're your future......... 'I saw the look on your face when you walked in here, my girl. Oh God, look at the old queen, how disgusting, what's she doing here, shouldn't she be in a home or something? ...Well let me inform you that without us, there wouldn't have been a party. You with your drugs and your clubs and your hair looking like a haystack .....you think you invented it, don't you? But you didn't. You just bought it. You had it all handed to you on a plate and you never stopped to wonder who put it there. Your generation seems to have lost the ability to love or to care or to fight for change, or to do anything....you're bitter as hell because you're lonely as hell and you're drinking and snorting your way to an early grave. And don't give me that look, daughter, because I've done it all myself and I can read you like a .... book.'
Oh, and I didn't know what a proctologist was until I read this book and now I wish that I still didn't know.
on June 10, 2011
This is really the same story repeated in alternating chapters with the names, places and doings slightly changed to create two different tales. In both, the characters are thin, of single dimentions and wholly forgettable which is a pity as I think he could have had a real winner with the 50's story; there were kernels of historical depth happening but unfortunately these were soon dropped as it was clear that little research had been done apart from superficial oral story gathering. There's not much likeable with the modern characters (but that doesn't make a bad story) what does is that the author couldn't get past cliches of the gym bunny, party boy to actually look into their inner lives.
Perhaps it's that this book is written for people with no need for depth if you can the use word 'hard' often enough and mingle it with dross about drug taking. Perhaps this fits into the airport novel category.