The Good Boy by John Fiennes. A Review by John Cook


While largely readable, this book covers two requirements which tend to interfere. This has to be accepted as it is after all a ‘memoir’ and the longish excursions into family history (particularly at the conclusion) were wanted on paper by the author. I can understand his concern as I am family historian with over four thousand names on file. I have spread the information far and wide and yes, I often wonder if more gay men have done likewise and whether it satisfies a need for family and life connectedness and memory. I, too, have been asked to write a book on the history but have resisted the temptation. So, despite the enticing (but eventually warranted) cover picture, I paid attention to the initial family setting and early years and what followed without giving the concluding family extracts much attention.


I really enjoyed this as an extended Australian memoir by a man a little older than me but which was packed with evocations of a way of life and family living long gone. Quite apart from persons of my age, there is considerable social and historical merit in reading how Fiennes negotiated the same hurdles that confronted me. I allowed myself to get close to a charming girl but halted myself as I became aware of understanding my true reality and the unfairness of what I would be doing if I had allowed things to progress. I was experiencing all he same pressures that Fiennes was encountering. It is a great sadness that, like so many, he partly took the advice of others plus was unable to determine his true orientation and navigate what it meant for him and those around him.


The title is heavily ironic, of course, as we read of a young man trying hard to be/do just that as his life circumstances developed and changed. Probably, the death of his father was a key moment in changing his circumstances and increased self-consciousness away from the suffocating, though pleasant, influences of family and church. I had a similar experience with the death of my mother in late teens and a rupture with my father shortly after. I occasionally wonder what might have happened if neither of those events had occurred.


His love of language (French) and enjoyment of teaching sent him out of his comfortable home environment into a world where he explored his sexuality (with some confusion) and even modelled and performed in soft and hard porn with excursions as a gigolo while also acquiring a wife. All along the way, I was enjoying these settings. He had a love affair with coastal steamers and international liners which were a principal source of transport at that time and I had an uncle who worked on the then Brisbane river wharves. He took me over the old ‘Manoora’ and I was green with envy to read of Fiennes’ experiences on these ships as I never made it but was an early user of the Kangaroo air route to Europe.


Ignatius Loyola was correct in commenting on the effect of religious education as Fiennes has a lifelong struggle with religion and spirituality even trying Trappism at one stage. I am well aware of similar turmoil in those about me who have found difficulty in either rejecting or adapting their religious inheritance and can empathise. He does seem to find some peace and self-validation late in life but I cannot feel that his long pathway was in anyway a case of wasted opportunity as it is presented a long rich growth process.


I was fascinated that, so late in life, he found satisfaction in an evolved relationship which some might regard as peculiar but I see as more typical of the manner in which queer people have been able historically to forge their own way. I am highly supportive of gay marriage as one of a range of alternatives but as only just that (pace Judge Judy and her precious laws).





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