Freedom Read #109

The first thing to say here is that I absolutely love the look and feel of the Fitzcarraldo Editions – sometimes I buy a book just on the strength of their name.

At 120 pages this can be one of those really satisfying done-in-a-day kind of reads. And so I did.

The novel opens on Colin’s 18th birthday. He describes himself as short, plump, uninteresting and a virgin. And gay. And he wears little wire rim spectacles. For his 18th birthday Colin’s uncle takes him to Box Hill, Surrey which is near Leatherhead, as Colin often repeats. Box Hill on a Sunday is a traditional gathering place for bikers from all over the south. Colin is fascinated and goes wandering. After a while he trips over the outstretched legs of the biker sleeping against a tree. This is Ray. Within minutes Colin is giving Ray a blow-job (Colin’s first and he seems pleased that it went reasonably well). Within hours Ray is deflowering Colin across the black sheets of his bachelor pad back in Hampton, London. Within days, Ray has visited Colin’s parents, who live a few miles away and told them that he thinks it best if Colin stays with him for a while. And so Colin moves in – sort of – with this huge (6ft 5), meticulous (he cleans his bike and leathers every week: and makes all of the safety checks on his gleaming Norton, before setting off, every time) controlling (he escorts Colin out of the door at 9am every weekday morning and does not allow him back in until 6pm: Colin doesn’t have a key to the flat) and taciturn biker.

The story starts in 1975 and in the main is done by 1981, just before “the Aids” begins.

Although he is ‘looked after’ by Ray, in terms of protection against other bikers, Colin is under no illusions that his role is to provide sexual release for Ray. Nothing else is asked of him. And he seems fine with that. He describes himself as being in love, and believes himself to be loved, despite not knowing Ray’s family name, birthday, age, or what Ray does to earn money. There are regular poker nights amongst Ray’s gang, and after a while, it becomes clear that Colin is shared amongst the other bikers if they want a blow-job in the lull between games…as are some of the other young men accompanying other bikers: it is the only time that I can recall reading of a sort of fellatio carousel being interrupted to discuss the place of Trade Unionism in society (it was the 1970s…and the bikers weren’t much for them really).

“Ray’s bike was as classic as he was – they were versions of the same superlative, he in confidence and leather, the Norton in power and chrome.

I haven’t read any Mars-Jones before, so I have no idea whether this is typical subject matter or typical style for him – it seems to be written in a way that fits exactly into the 1970s – it might be a sort of suburban understatement to this strangely controlling relationship story, or it might be that it reminded me of those ‘naughty-housewife’ stereotype stories that were so prevalent at that time, or those biker genre novels, whichever, it is extremely English in its flavour, and also, possibly, extremely clever writing on Mars-Jones’ behalf.

There is an interesting sub-plot of Colin’s Mum & Dad: a couple clearly in love, but for whom the fear of losing his wife becomes an overwhelming anxiety for his dad, so much so that his single remaining aim seems to be to die first to avoid having to face life without her.

It is a rites of passage novel, with all the different milestones / thresholds normally found, and if you can overlook or get along with Colin’s simpering disavowal of his own personality in the face of this Aryan monolith called Ray, then you’ll probably get along with it OK.

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