Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review: Man's World and London Triptych

Man's World by Rupert Smith, Arcadia Books, 2010
The cover of the book describes it as "funny, dirty, deeply romantic" and I can see why that would help the book's sales, but it really isn't any of those things, so don't be expecting them.

What it is instead is a very vivid portrait of life in two time periods, late 50's and modern day, told though the eyes of two likeable characters. The story alternates between both tales and both are interesting. Nothing earth shattering happens, but that's not really the point. The story goes into great depths about the feelings and emotions in each time period, and draws them together at the end but not too neatly, leaving some connections for you to pick up yourself.

One supposes a cover saying "An in-depth character drama that will keep you turning pages" wouldn't sell, but it should. This book is done well, it's never dry or dull, it keeps you flipping the pages and at the end has characters I'm glad I knew. It also illustrates a time and a life I have little concept of. Best gay book I've read this year.

London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp, Myriad Editions, 2010
Similar to the book Mans World, this book covers gay men in London during separate periods, this book covering three periods, 1894, 1954 and 1998.

There are moments of brilliance in the writing, with fluid, vivid description and a beautiful turn of phrase. When one of the characters has sex with a man for the first time, the author perfectly captures it, the feeling of release, of knowing who you are, of succumbing to a desire, all captured perfectly.

For all the book does well however there are flaws.

The first story centres on a prostitute associated with Oscar Wilde and doesn't ring true. The concept seems too out there to be believable and the character speaks more like a university graduate than someone who never finished first grade.

The second story is the best, a gay man who has lived a repressed life in fear of the law and his own desires. This story is the best executed and you'll find yourself hurrying through the other stories to get back to this one.

The final story, of a jailed hustler in modern times, is barely worth mentioning. The story is annoyingly told in second person ("You did this. You would like to go to the store..."). Slowly we find out who the "you" in the story is but I finished the book yesterday and I already forget. It's not believable, and while the other two stories deal with the biggest themes of their time for gay men, this one is about someone jailed for stealing a car, it doesn't fit, and should have been left out.

Overall more highs and lows than Man's World, a deeper story, but one that doesn't always work.

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