Friends and Lovers
Sphere, London, 1971
dedication: to Valerie
The blurb on the back:
'I had never wanted to be a woman, just to know, really know, what it is to be a woman.'
'Outstanding ... an absolutely serious novel, written with an unusual and charming lyricism ... A remarkable achievement' - Martin Seymour Smith, Spectator
Here's an odd one, about which I know nothing. The sleeve-notes sell it on the strength of the bisexuality of the narrator, but actually that's a function of a deeper psychological issue. This is a man who's really lost in the materialist world of Sixties Britain, yearning for a life as a secular monk:
His first job is as an artist's model (coincidentally it came out the same year as The Naked Civil Servant) and it's a metaphor for his entire existence. He stands naked before a crowd, offering no communication, nothing of himself, merely waiting to be approached, hoping that someone will find the truth of his life. Passive almost to the point of irritation, he drifts into relationships, marriage, psychiatric institutions, a writing career and more, without ever actually making a compromise. He seems to be seeking himself through the abandonment of everything and everybody he has.
It all feels terribly autobiographical and, since Maurice Capitanchik never - as far as I know - wrote anything else, I like to think that perhaps he found his own nirvana after this, and withdrew into happy hermitude. If anyone knows anything of him, I should be very glad to know.
Meanwhile, for those of you interested in the history of gay literature, this is worth reading. The casual and ready acceptance of a life as an outsider is beautifully rendered, and there's a joyous lack of sensationalism to it all.
And for the rest of you, it's still worth reading, because it's a very fine piece indeed: quiet, seductive and engrossing. Great cover as well.
Incidentally, I think the title was changed for the paperback because Sphere already had a novel out called Joseph, a fictionalised biography of Joe Stalin, who was a very different man indeed.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5
Geoff Brown, I Want What I Want