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MAURICE CAPITANCHIK
Friends and Lovers


click to enlarge

Sphere, London, 1971
(price: 30p; 160 pages)

first published by the Oliver Press in 1968 under the title Joseph

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.'
Joseph Ashley, a poor but talented writer falls under the spell of a rich homosexual impresario, who keeps him and becomes his lover. But Joseph feels tainted by Dach's love and by his money.
In an effort to deny his homosexual nature he marries Maggie. But Maggie is soon bored by Joseph's commitment to his writing and takes a lover to make him jealous.
The attempt misfired for Joseph's interest was re-awakened, not by Maggie, but by her lover...

'Outstanding ... an absolutely serious novel, written with an unusual and charming lyricism ... A remarkable achievement' - Martin Seymour Smith, Spectator


opening lines:
At sixteen, most boys are beginning to assert themselves, they are already competitive, anxious about the future, longing to prove their worth, but I fell in love. It was not to be the love of my life, but the beginning of a dilemma which almost cost me my sanity.


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:

It seemed to me that we had all lost our way, that the complexity and impurity of our lives needed to be replaced by a new simplicity, a new purity. I often felt as though I were hovering over the human race like a bird, observing the closed-in brevity of lives, the sadness and horror of drudgery and wasted effort, with an immediacy of comprehension which taught me the secret of a whole life in an instant. Poor, suffering, human race! (p.24)

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.


ARTISTIC MERIT: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
3/5


like this? try this...

Geoff Brown, I Want What I Want
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