Once again, I have to thank this group for drawing this author to my attention. Neither of these books are literary masterpieces. They are, however, solid and workmanlike with well-executed storylines and some complexity, plenty of character interest, and occasional appropriate sex (Smith writes erotic novels successfully under the name of Charles Lear, so he knows how to hold and exploit reader attention). They are also well-placed to accommodate a wide range of audience ages and interests. The first is more strongly gay directed and the latter more general but with a strong twist toward the business of fiction writing and the nature of reality.
By Rupert Smith
At last I understand the reference in the ‘Cucumber’ series to NEXT clothing stores as shopping there evidently puts one beyond the pale of the young, gay and fashionable to even consider buying clothes from this outlet (see the cover pic). I guess that pretty much includes me these days though it didn’t seem to harm ‘new guy’ Simon’s chances. It does, however point to the clever duality of this book as we see two ‘gay’ worlds 50 years apart that collide. I have lived the earlier one and identify strongly with it. I am aware through friends and contacts of some of the nature of the more contemporary world but found this book tended to reinforce some of my more negative views of a sometimes heedless, self-centred component that speaks of an almost richly privileged yet ‘lost’ existence. Or is my age showing again?
The two worlds intersect in a London apartment building in the form of Michael and his secret diaries that give us access to his past world and passage to the present and Robert who blogs about what reads as his rather aimless existence with few solid relationships. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot that is wickedly funny and insightful both in the present and past story lines though a little more soulful and characterful in the past and how it reaches into the present.
A very readable book bound to evoke a range of responses and certainly enjoyment. Don’t feel that you have to like everybody or anybody all that much. There is no hero, just survivors.
By Rupert Smith
As I indicated in my preliminary note, this is not just a novel about some interesting people. It is about a novelist who seems to allow his real and contrived worlds to collide. The question is, ‘is this a deliberate or providential process?” – a question that the central character Helen has to ask herself as events unfold. In any case, the conclusion, while a little on the neat and tidy side, does leave matters somewhat open with the reader left to ponder beyond the last page a little, at least.
This is less of a ‘gay’ novel than the previous, though it emerges that a long and troubled male love story is central to the action throughout – or was that deathbed confession another lie or authorial manipulation? The action covers the period from pre and post WWII to the present and winds in and out of cheap repertory theatre and ANSA entertainments to the business of writing and publishing books. There are plenty of twists and interesting character developments that include contemporary married lifestyle issues and problems.
I found satisfaction in the character of Helen who takes a key step (or was she trapped?) along a pathway that gradually opens up family mysteries and promotes her personal development even as a wannabe author herself. She is thoroughly tested and appears to emerge a stronger person with greater self-understanding.
This is a well-written, well-plotted book that successfully uses three different voices that culminate in a 40 page revelation toward the conclusion that brings things to a neatly constructed series of revelations peppered with dialogue and situations that are sometimes sad but more often arch and witty. There is less sex that in the previous novel but the well-placed cover pic hints at the centrality of the key long-term sexual relationship (s?).