Review: The Loom of Youth by Alec Waugh

loom.jpg

Review by Hayden Thorne

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
And if the modern reader after turning a page or two finds his attention held and wants to go on reading it will mean that this book has become at last what in fact it was always meant to be—a realistic but romantic story of healthy adolescence set against the background of an average English Public School.

REVIEW:
Alec Waugh (older brother of Evelyn Waugh of Brideshead Revisited fame) wrote The Loom of Youth when he was seventeen-and-a-half-years-old. He was, he admits in his introduction, lost in nostalgia as well as rebellion. He’d been expelled from his school – Sherborne School in Dorset – for engaging in homosexual practices, i.e., a mild flirtation with a younger boy. He remains the only student to be expelled from Sherborne.

Part (perhaps a great part) of the book’s notoriety rests on its matter-of-fact treatment of homosexuality among public school boys, the other part being Waugh’s scathing attack on the public school system.

If potential readers pick up this book all agog over boarding school romances, they shouldn’t hold their breath. I myself, being a fan of schoolboy romance, was sorely disappointed with – not to mention baffled by – the controversy, given the extreme brevity of the “infamous gay theme.” Then again, I’m a reader from the 21st century – hardened and liberal – who wouldn’t even blink at the sight of same-sex couples holding hands or kissing publicly, smack dab in the middle of downtown Berkeley.

As for the novel’s gay angle? Not only does it take place toward the end of the book, but it also covers a whopping half a chapter. Half a chapter. It resurfaces afterwards in – and, yes, I counted – two sentences total in reference to Gordon’s romantic friendship with Morcombe. To get there, one has to slog through several chapters of fascinating, humorous, and excruciatingly tedious accounts of Gordon Caruthers’ life in Fernhurst.

On the whole, the book is well-written – wonderfully so, given Waugh’s age when he worked on it for six weeks. In this case his perspective greatly helps the novel’s satiric edge, having enjoyed and loved his school years, only to have them taken away from him over something so natural as the development of a deeper friendship with another boy. As master after ineffectual master parade across the pages, nearly all of whom become victims to the students’ pranks, one can almost imagine Waugh in his army uniform, grinning insanely as he scribbles down his criticisms of the public school system.

Waugh’s writing style is strong and natural, vividly descriptive and certainly dripping with a sly sense of humor. It’s very easy to be taken in by his cheeky observations, but it can also be a tiresome exercise in redundancy.

In exploring Gordon Caruthers’ school experiences from the moment he sets foot in Fernhurst as a thirteen-year-old till he leaves at nineteen, Waugh indulges – too much, I think – in recounting moment after moment, term after term, year after year, ad infinitum. Classes, sports, dorm life, pranks, ragging, cribbing, quarrels with masters – while at first these provide readers with an interesting first-hand, detailed account of public school life, after several chapters of the same thing, one feels his energy tapped and his brain frozen. In fact, I found myself skimming through all the football and cricket matches because while they demonstrate Waugh’s love for the sports, they really add nothing much to the story other than to stoke Gordon’s determination to rise to the top by his final year in school.

The novel’s redeemed in its final quarter. It’s largely because Gordon grows up, and he’s exposed to things other than sports, and he stops almost all of the silliness he used to indulge in with his friends. He’s exposed to poetry and things that go well beyond the superficial reach of sports and other academic goals. He meets Ferrers, a new master who stirs the pot with his modernist ideas. He develops a romantic attachment with Morcombe though he doesn’t quite understand what it is. He begins to question so many things, and the veneer of superficial schoolboy triumphs grows dim.

Much of the impact of the final chapters centers on England going to war against Germany. All of a sudden, schoolfriends and many of the younger masters are dropping out in order to enlist in the army. School life is affected by the war, and paradise suffers a sharp tug back down to earth. There’s a strong, poignant, elegiac undercurrent that runs through the last part of the book, and when Gordon finally leaves Fernhurst, it becomes a bittersweet moment. I was moved so much by the final chapters that I had to skim through the first part of the novel to let things sink in. Waugh’s purpose becomes clear, and all one has to do is to set the first few chapters next to the final ones, and he can see how far Gordon has traveled in his development. Suddenly all those horrible, tedious moments of dragging oneself through chapter after chapter of similar scenes and interchangeable characters are forgiven and forgotten – for the most part, that is.

FINAL NOTE: The copy I have has strange misplaced periods, by the bye. They pop up here and there, often in the middle of sentences, which threw me off again and again. I don’t know if that’s a printing issue that’s specific only to my edition (2007 BiblioBazaar), but it’s worth a quick heads up.

Buy the book: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: Maurice, directed by James Ivory

maurice.jpg

Review by Hayden Thorne

FROM MERCHANT IVORY PRODUCTIONS:
The traditional bildungsroman, or novel of education, ends with a marriage. E.M. Forster’s Maurice (1914), the second of his novels to be adapted by Merchant Ivory, takes on a subject that no major novel in the genre had ever addressed: the problem of coming of age as a homosexual in a restrictive society. First published in 1971, after Forster’s death, and long neglected by critics, it is only recently (and largely since the release of the film adaptation) that critics have come to set Maurice in its unique place among “Reader, I married him” narratives. Starring James Wilby (Maurice) and Hugh Grant (Clive) as two Cambridge undergraduates who fall in love, the film is set amidst the hypocritical homoerotic subculture of the English university in Forster’s time. In an environment in which any reference to ” the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” is omitted, and any overture toward a physical relationship between men might be punishable by law, Maurice and Clive struggle to come to terms with their own feelings toward each other and toward a repressive society.

REVIEW:
The dichotomy of love – that of the idealized (intellectual/platonic) and the physical – is beautifully captured in Merchant and Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel, Maurice.

The film is made with a remarkably sharp eye for detail. England becomes a lush panorama that enriches every scene – the green, rolling countryside, the sprawling grandeur of Penge (or Pendersleigh in the movie), the grayness of rain-soaked London. We’re treated to the rich traditions that define university life in Cambridge, with young, aristocratic students sharply-dressed and immersed in their Greek translations or raucously celebrating athletic victories. The side characters are also used to paint a detailed picture of the mores of those times, both within social classes as well as between.

James Ivory takes his time in feeding us Maurice’s world, and the pace is luxuriously idle without turning dull. The cinematography is gorgeous, but it never distracts us from the characters and the story. One can say that Ivory turns England into a character in the movie, and in many ways, she is. She’s the hidden puppet-master who controls and dictates the tension within and between characters with her history, faith, and laws, and everyone’s powerless against her.

The acting is strong (though Kingsley seems a bit uncomfortable in his role as a hypnotist with an odd American accent) and effective in expressing the way turbulent yet natural emotions are confined by a rigid, intellectual veneer that very much defines the English upper-class. Unlike his counterpart in the novel, Clive is actually made into a more sympathetic character, with more believable reasons (compared to those in the novel) for choosing the path he takes. Hugh Grant, in one of his better performances, captures the fear, the despair, and the resignation that will shape Clive’s life for the rest of his days.

James Wilby fleshes out Maurice with great skill, moving from innocence to love to heartbreak to hope with a subtlety that’s alternately admirable and gut-wrenching. His portrayal certainly defies common – and bigoted – misconceptions of ineffectual softness or effeminacy as the defining character of a gay man – yes, even as a refined, upper-class gentleman. He’s athletic, well-built, and his scenes with Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, who gives his role a cheeky roughness and vulnerability that makes one hope like heck that he’ll get his man in the end) show a nice blending of masculinity and deep emotion.

Unlike Clive, Alec is unpolished and unabashed in his expressions of love, constantly seeking Maurice’s companionship, which terrifies Maurice at first but eventually leads him to make a decision that’s both bittersweet and satisfying though largely improbable on another level. Given the social atmosphere of pre-World War I England, after all, class, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so, was a ruthless force in defining people’s behavior. Maurice, in fact, has shown himself to be a snob in several instances. The chances of a successful relationship with a social inferior are open to question. On the other hand, it’s the romance of a “what if?” situation that should be allowed the final word.

In a time and a place that were dominated by convention and the soul-deadening hypocrisy of the status quo, a slow and quiet stroll down the paths of improbability and romanticism sometimes make the best medicine.

The DVD contains several deleted scenes in a separate disc, one of them involving Maurice’s relationship with young Dickie Barry. It’s dismaying seeing those scenes taken out of the final theatrical release because Dickie’s presence marks another turning point in Maurice’s development. The boy inadvertently introduces Maurice to feelings of lust, which Maurice rather pathetically hopes to explore by dropping hints regarding his sleeping arrangements (just up the stairs from Dickie’s assigned room, thank you). Another deleted scene involves Lord Risley’s fate after his disgrace, which would have been an even more desperate call for Clive and Maurice to dive back into the closet. Yet another shows Clive (still a university student) showing signs of rebellion at home and dispensing his duties with a pretty cynical (even bitter) attitude. Here he gives his staff presents for Christmas, and had the scene been left in the movie’s final form, it would’ve given us our first glimpse of Alec Scudder.

Given the film’s length as it is, I can understand the need to excise those scenes, but it’s still unfortunate that we miss a few excellent – even significant – moments because of it. Thank the stars that they’re at least part of the final package for us to view again and again.

Buy the DVD: Amazon, Amazon UK

Review: No Apologies by J M Snyder

Donnie Novak and Jack Sterling have known each other forever. Growing up together in a small Midwestern town, they were best friends. After high school, they both enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the same time, and somehow were assigned to the same company before being stationed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma together. One night on leave, Donnie crosses an almost imperceptible line between friendship and something more. A stolen kiss threatens to ruin what Donnie and Jack have built up together all these years, and the next morning, he can’t apologize enough. But a squadron of Japanese bombers has their sights trained on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row, and in the early hours of December 7, 1941, Donnie might not get a chance to set things right.

Review by Erastes

This is a short story, really – at just over 11,000 words, but thoroughly enjoyable too. It starts punchily and in a cinematic style, the two friends out with the rest of the shore leave sailors. Most of them getting drunk and getting off with the local women. Donnie isn’t, he’s too busy trying not to touch Jack and stare at Jack.  In fact the writing is quite cinematic all the way through – I really got a sense of the drunken band of friends, sticky cocktails and a warm Honalulu night.  Later we are “treated” to the terror of what happens during the raid and a very real feeling predicament for the two friends.

It could have been over-sentimental, but it wasn’t, which was right for the story being told – and sadly for our boys they didn’t get an opportunity to get each other’s kit off either, but that was right too, seeing as to what was happening!  I’m quite sure that they managed some “sack time” with each other at some point, even if I did feel a little sad to thinkwhat they were just about to get into, and hoped that they would survive to gettogether somewhere and somehow.

Well written and nicely described, from sailors in thin white cotton to the mess-deck breakfast I was thoroughly convinced and well worth$2.49 of anyone’s money.

Buy from Fictionwise 

Historical Novel call for submissions(!!)

00006fb2.jpeg

Many thanks to Sedonia Guillone for pointing this out, and to Alex Beecroft for the graphic.

Can you believe it?  I’m amazed – and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

HISTORICAL NOVEL SUBMISSION CALL

Historically-based Single Author Erotic Novel or Anthology

Deadline: December 30, 2008

STARbooks Press is looking for an historically-based single author novel or anthology to fill out our 2009-2010 catalog season. Choose a time period and a specific place or event to base your novel or anthology. If you choose to write an anthology, all the stories and characters should tie in together throughout the book. Give the reader a reason to continue reading!

When you choose your time period, be sure to do your research and be knowledgeable about that period in history. Be serious about your work as this is not just about the sex, but the historical themes as well. We have an editor who is a former history teacher, and submissions will be scrutinized to be sure they are not only erotic but accurate!

If you would like to see an example of what we seek, check out Erotic Tales of the Knights Templar by Jay Starre and published by STARbooks Press. Not only is this book historically accurate, the characters are well-developed, the theme is carried throughout the book as the stories are tied in together, and the sex is hot.

Guidelines:
Submit your query to submissions@starbookspress.com and YOU MUST include the following:
– In the body of the email, include a brief summary of your book and your publishing history/bio.
– Include the first few chapters of your book as an attachment.

If your query is accepted, a STARbooks Press editor will be in contact with you about submitting the complete work. Be sure your manuscript has been proofed and edited; we do not accept single author titles that require extensive editing.

Sloppy or poorly written manuscripts will NOT be considered, replied to, or acknowledged!

We expect submissions to be fully edited and ready for press.

For more information: www.starbookspress.com

It’s about time, eh? 

Review: Honor Bound by Wheeler Scott

 

from the blurb: Christian has just come home to England, leaving his commission in the Army, so he can do his duty by the family now that his brother, the heir, is dead. Prodded by his crusty dowager of a grandmother, he sets out to find a wife and produce heirs. He thinks he’s done well for himself when he meets a wonderful young lady, someone he feels might help him forget Jamie, his fellow soldier and wartime love affair. Then Jamie turns up right under his nose, and Christian is faced with some hard choices as he has to decide how honor is best served. This traditional gay Regency proves that sometimes the ties that bind go beyond blood, and that even a man bound by honor might give up everything for love.

Review by Erastes

“Traditional Gay Regency” this ain’t. It couldn’t be further from one, and what is one of those, anyway? There’s only about ten or so in existence, to my knowledge.

I have to say that I came away feeling severely conflicted about this book. It seemed to want to conspire to make me dislike it and yet I finished with a feeling that I didn’t, overall. 

Firstly it’s in a very tight third person present tense, and I really don’t like the present tense for novels. It can work well in sections, and it can work brilliantly for short stories, but I find it very wearing for long pieces and there are some things that, when expressed in present tense, become clumsy and lose their impact.

Secondly it doesn’t have a depth of the time it portrays, and that’s partly due to the style of the writing (which I’ll come to later).  I found that with a little experimentation, I could switch “Peninsular war” for “Gulf War” and I wouldn’t have noticed the join much.  This is shored up by the modern feel of the writing and by the informality the characters show with each other.  The heroine “Danielle” (and I baulked right here, seeing as how she’d have been born in an age where the French were seen as murderous rabble – and would any parent give their daughter a French name?) insists that Christian calls her – wait for it – Dani. And yes, with that spelling. I was waiting for her sisters Brandi, Buffy and Britney at one point.  Now, while I’m happy to consider that Christian may have given into a strong willed girl who insisted on such informality in private (and they are in private far far too often) she would be and should be Miss Fields in public right up until the time their engagement is announced.

There are other infuriating anachronisms too, such as the time when Dani and family arrive at Christian’s mansion for a weekend and Dani’s maid has to lug “several trunks” up the same stairs that Dani is climbing with Christian. This is silly enough as 1. one trunk is heavy enough let alone several, 2. guests luggage and their servants would be round the BACK of the house, not being seen but then Dani and Christian go to assist the maid which had me beating my head on the desk.

However.

The writing borders on wonderful at points, and while it didn’t really suit the time and the subject, it was so impressive at times that I could almost forgive the errors.  It very much reads like a man suffering from PTSD, which I could very much believe he was, and that’s a neat twist on a Peninsular War soldier.

Here’s an example:

The first thing he does is look around, frantically searching, eyes tearing from the smoke that still hangs thick and heavy over what is left of the field they fought on. Nothing. He’s looking again, alarm thumping in his chest, when he realizes his shoulder hurts, a sharp stabbing pain.

His fingers come away stained damp and dark but when he presses into the wound again, harder, he feels its edges and realizes it’s nothing but a sharp gash, not even down to the bone. He starts walking, ignoring the sounds his feet make as they travel across the ground. There was a period, in the beginning, when he cared where he walked and rode, thought about what might be underneath him. He doesn’t anymore.

Death has passed from wrenching into the familiar, and he feels more of a jolt when they pass through towns where children still play, stunned by the sight of someone who feels free and safe out in the open.

The story runs with two seperate narratives, the present – where Christian goes home to try and do what his family want – and the recent past which explains his relationship with Jamie. Perhaps using two different tenses would have worked better in each seperate narrative, but they are both in present tense which is a little wearing and confusing.  It is muddied yet further by a further-back flashback which does slide into past tense.

Christian is suitably conflicted, if a little too angsty for my taste and towards the end I was a little fed up with his internal whining. The decision that he finally makes actually pleased me because although shocking to his family no doubt, was probably something that did happen, even in the best families.

It’s not an erotic love-story, for those of you who seek out this kind of thing, sex is inferred and full of imagery rather than description.

So, I would say, read it and make up your own mind.  I hadn’t heard of this author before, but I would (particularly if it was a modern story) try another of their works.  I can’t mark it higher than I have for the reasons that jarred me, but without the wonderful passages it would have got two stars.

Buy from Fictionwise

Review: The Journeyer by J.P. Bowie

Edited blurb: In the year 1746, after the armies of the Scottish Highlands rebelling against the King of England were at last defeated at the Battle of Culloden, the English government began a vicious campaign of punishment and humiliation against the people of Scotland.  Jamie MacDonald, a young Scot mourning the deaths of his father and brothers in the massacre, and his mother embark on a dangerous journey to find a better life in the New World. But tragedy and unforeseen circumstance dog Jamie’s path and he finds himself pressed into service aboard a pirate ship commanded by a ruthless Spaniard-a man with a past as dark as any on the wrong side of the law, but with an allure Jamie cannot resist. When he finally reaches the New World, Jamie is a changed man-one whose innocence has been replaced with a keen sense of self-preservation and a determination to survive-no matter what. Fighting to endure in the wilderness, he believes he has found his destiny as his life becomes irrevocably entwined with a Choctaw warrior-shaman-a man who had a vision of Jamie’s coming. Together they fight the elements and those who seek to destroy them.

Review(with some spoilers) by Erastes

This book was the book that I thought “Brethren Raised by Wolves” was going to be. It’s an adventure story, and a damned good one.  This is no story of an innocent lad with wide open eyes who is taken by surprise by life; to me this reads like a true “journey” of a boy who quickly learns the harshness of his lot and the injustices of his world and strikes out to find new ways of living – only to find that life isn’t that much different, wherever you might go.

It’s not so much “coming of age” but the first stage in a life which could probably fill books, as this really only deals with a surprising small number of years in Jamie’s life.  If you like frontier stories or pirate stories you’ll like this as it has enough of both to satisfy.

I had a few moments, right at the beginning that challenged me and made me worry if I was going to like the book as a whole: One being the fact that Jamie MacDonald made no secret of his identity after fleeing the Highlands.  My knowledge (to my shame) of the post Culloden months is based almost solely on “Kidnapped” but I remember that people kept the fact that they were highlanders secret, and to mention a name like MacDonald would have been like tossing a cinder into a powderkeg – I didn’t find it realistic that he was bandying his name around, even in London, let alone in Scotland as he attempted to flee.

On a much more minor point I also shied at the fact that – when through circumstances he is forced not to take the boat to America that he has spent all of his money on – he didn’t attempt to try and sell his tickets on, despite the fact that there was a desperate queue of people attempting to leave the country.  It seemed a rather contrived way of beggaring him, when there were easier and more convincing ways to do it.  I also have to say, and I don’t like to – is that he struck me as just a little bit of a Gary Stu; everything he does, he tends to do really well. He rides well, he learns to sail, he fights incredibly well, everyone (well, to be honest, nearly everyone) he comes across takes to him, and a lot of people who didn’t like him to start with grow to like him.

But – and for me this is a big but, when the story got going it was nothing more or less than a page turner, and a grand adventure that put the wind of the Atlantic into my hair and made me remember the days of my youth when I wanted nothing more than to wear a deerskin breechclout and to run, unseen, to fight the white man.  The story moves along at a cracking pace, whilst never losing characterisation or romance development.

And yes, there is romance here.  We are given a hint of it right at the beginning, and then Bowie goes and veers off course and surprises the reader by giving Jamie a love interest that even he wasn’t expecting and one that he doesn’t even want to accept.

I liked Antonio a lot, and I appreciated the way that Bowie made us follow Jamie’s thought processes – and we fell in love with Antonio in the same way and for the same reasons, but it was fairly obvious to me that there was going to be something that ended this idyll on the sea and I won’t spoil you for what it is.

It is when Jamie comes to the New World that you get the sense that he’s a man – I enjoyed his time here a great deal. It was everything “Last of the Mohicans” should have been for me, a great love, loads of action and plenty of hot man-lovin’.

A word about the romance scenes, though – because I know some of you require hotter scenes than others – the sex is very subtle. It’s more about “he could feel his excitement” and “they spent their passion” than anything throbbing or spurting, but that was fine with me.  It was the plot that interested me far more than the anatomical details. I find it interesting that some male writers are writing what are more traditional “romance” scenes (Pierce, Virga, Bowie to name a few) and the majority of women seem to write them a lot more graphically.

Aside from the minor quibbles at the beginning of the book, I have to say – that like Lee Rowan’s, or Alex Beecroft’s books, even though I wasn’t at all au fait with the Jacobite period it was clear to me that Bowie had done a good bit of research and I was able to relax and enjoy the book for what it was.  If there are errors within it that an historian could point out, then that’s fine – there weren’t glaring and that’s a plus for me. I felt like I was in a safe pair of hands and I could wallow in the adventure, string my arrow to my bow and hunt the white-man while protecting my tribe. The ending kicked me in the stomach, too, so be warned.

May I further add that it’s self-published by iUniverse and the editing is pretty damned good. I hope that as the genre gain popularity that this book is picked up by a mainstream publisher because it’s one that deserves to sit on any historical fiction shelf.

Definitely a recommendation, and I’ll seek out his other historical, the Roman “Slaves to Love” soon.

Author’s website

Buy Amazon UK Amazon USA

Author Interview with Max Pierce

max.jpg

This time we are joined by Max Pierce, journalist and author of Gothic gay romance “Master of Seacliff ”

SiN: Welcome to Speak Its Name, Max, it’s good to have you here, can you tell the readers who might not have visited your website a little bit about you?

Max Pierce: Thank you, Erastes and a big Texas ‘hi y’all’ to the gang at Speak Its Name. Frankly, I lost my Texas accent years ago, but my soul remains there…much like Scarlett and her need to get back to Tara on occasion.

To set the scene, it’s a late Saturday evening here at the base of the Hollywood Hills, where I’ve lived for the past decade. The famous ‘Hollywood’ sign and the Griffith Park Observatory are visible from my balcony which runs the length of my apartment; about 55 feet. As for me, I’m seated at my writing desk, a 1950’s office acquisition about 6 feet long and crammed with paper, with candles burning and classical music on the radio. I’m enjoying a double Dewar’s and water. However, I am not chomping on one of my cigars…I reserve that for the balcony…and in California terms, it’s freezing; about 54 degrees so I’m nice and cozy inside. I’ve grown my beard for the winter, sorry no picture of that, but its as bushy as my moustache…alas much greyer.

SiN: You’ve obviously got writing in your soul, what with the journalism and everything – what made you make the jump to short stories and novels?

MP: I’ve always considered myself a writer….I come from a long line of storytellers. For me, short stories and novels were just a natural progression of development but journalism remains dear to me. I always felt a calling to give a voice to those who could not. More on that later. However, I still pick up a copy of SEACLIFF and wonder how in the hell I did it…and how am I going to do it again?

To start way back…I began reading at age 2, somewhat of a child prodigy my family maintains. Being a spoiled only child, for my 4th birthday I was given a color console television set…keep in mind only a few shows broadcast in color at the point, and there were only about 6 channels to watch, and it was an excellent babysitter for a lonely boy who knew he was different, and surrounded by adults.

Around age 7, I ‘began’ my first book, a shameless rip-off of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ series, updated to 1970 and relocated to California. The need for California has been in my blood from an early age. My mother was an avid movie buff and loved to tell me all the old legends of Hollywood. We both used it as an escape from our by turn dramatic or dreary lives in and around Dallas. Mama made Hollywood sound so magical I made up my mind that I’d live there. Of the many obstacles I’ve overcome, getting to Los Angeles remains one of my proudest achievements and I remind myself to say a prayer of thanks everyday for being here.

SiN: What’s your publishing story? Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: