Author: Rupert Smith, 2010
Genre: Contemporary/Period Fiction. GLBT. Romance.
Other Details: Paperback. 282 pages.
In this short novel, Smith charts the lives of two men and the gay scene in London in the present day and the late 1950/1960s. The narratives alternate between the two time periods as one man records his thoughts in a blog, accessible to the world, and the other writes in a secret journal.
In present day London, Robert (Robbie) is just moving into a new flat assisted by his best friend, Jonathan. Robbie's life centres around sex, drugs, clubbing and designer clothes. In contrast Michael, newly inducted into the RAF in the late 1950s, seeks to keep his sexuality secret despite the suspicions of superior officers and the taunts of his peers. Once he completes his National Service, Michael heads to London where he is introduced to the queer underworld.
I enjoyed this reading group selection even though it wasn't a novel I'd normally have chosen for myself. It highlights certain changes in British society over 50 years from the days when homosexual sex between consenting adults was still illegal to the modern day, where seemingly anything goes. One of the cross-over characters from the 50s to the present is Stephen, Michael's friend from the RAF, who is very aware that young gays such as Robbie and Jonathan think of him as an old queen and do not appreciate that it was the campaigning and sacrifices of men like he and Michael that made it possible for them to have the lifestyle they enjoy today.
Although this is marketed as a gay romance, it wasn't fluff. The love story at its heart was moving and its themes relevant in broader terms; especially the observation that freedoms and rights hard won can quickly become taken for granted. The apathy that Stephen rails against in the new generation, who appear to live only for for sex and shopping, could equally apply to many parts of contemporary society.
I found my sympathies more with Michael in the past that Robert in the present as I have little interest in the constant round of clubbing. getting wasted or becoming overly excited about designer clothes and shoes. Despite the difficulties faced, the clandestine world that Michael experiences had more appeal. As a slight aside, in the early chapters Robert's catalogue of who was wearing what did remind me a little of the concerns of American Psycho''s Patrick Bateman.
Although this is a book with a message, it was delivered in a highly readable manner. Overall an interesting book that was both funny and poignant. It generated some interesting discussion in our reading group.