Quartet, London, 1973
(price: £1.75; 136 pages)
For Eileen and W.M.
The blurb on the back:
'Jackarandy, rude, exuberant... marks a fascinating debut' - Daily Telegraph
Miraculously surviving an explosion in the South China Sea, Merchant Seaman Keiron Dorrity comes to London to take things easy for a while.
While convalescing, he writes an account of a bizarre incident he heard about at sea. When this is snapped up by the editor of a homophile magazine, Keiron finds himself drawn into the murky, lucrative underworld of the professional homosexual. He enters it for kicks, for giggles, for the attention which fans his ego; and in return, it brings him money and an easy life.
Then he falls in love with a young American called Rufus; and with subsequent events comes the realisation that the world he light-heartedly entered cannot be so easily discarded.
'This book, with all its tumultuousness and vitality, seems to me to show that its author is a born writer' - James Pope Hennessy
I don't know; depression and a sort of emptiness ... a train in a siding ... a ship becalmed ...
Let me quote you the author's biog from the front of this book:
Leo Madigan is a Merchant Seaman. He first went to sea at 16. By 21 he had tried being an actor, a Horse Guardsman, a husband, a monk, a psychiatric worker. He returned to sea and has been shipping out steadily for ten years. He was encouraged to write by winning a literary competition organised by the Seafarers' Education Service, and since then his stories, articles and poems have frequently appeared in the Service's magazine The Seafarer. He has also contributed articles to Blackwood's magazine. Jackarandy is his first novel.
So now you know as much as I do about Mr Madigan. I assume that this book is at least vaguely based on his own life, and that quote from the Daily Telegraph is spot on: this is indeed 'a fascinating debut'. Told in the form of a writer's journal, it gives a vivid portrayal of the world of professional gay sex in London at the turn of the Seventies, and a strong character study of a merchant seaman feeling ill at ease with life on shore. It's direct, uncompromising and unflinching.
What's particularly good is the vagueness at the boundaries of sexuality. Our hero Keiron Dorrity is easy-going but he's pretty damn sure that he's not gay as such:
'What constitutes a homosexual? If it's a single act then yes, sure, I am. If it's a hundred acts, I am - but if it's an attitude of mind then I wouldn't say so...
'You can't cubbyhole individuals into sexual types any more than you can cubbyhole them into anything. There are as many shades of sexuality as there are people with the equipment and the emotional need...' (p.103)
And there's a wonderful sidelong glance at another of our featured books, with an experienced rent boy complaining about how times have changed: 'Nothin' doin' round 'ere no more mate. Since they showed Midnight Cowboy every punk in London's moved in on the game.' (p.106)
In short, there's lots of good stuff here, and I wish there was more to come. The name Leo Madigan later turned up as author of a couple of books on the cult of Fatima, the Catholic Church's very own McCarthyite wing, but I have my doubts that it's the same man.
a subsequent edition
ARTISTIC MERIT: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 4/5
like this? try this...
The Pole and Whistle