Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gays at war -- again: Quince

If you wanted a book that was 150% different from Glamourpus (the last one I looked at), this could be it. David Rees is a novelist I don't know much about. It's hard to find him on the Internet because there are so many people with the same name ... and because the English novelist by that name (the correct David Rees) died in 1993 so obviously isn't keeping an online presence for himself. Which is a shame because he's written quite a few good books.

The David Rees book I enjoyed the most is The Milkman's On His Way, but I can't review it because I don't have a copy! I read a borrowed copy back in the 1990s, which is (I think) when it as nominated for a literary award; I can't find any current info about this.

(To show how hard it is to get info, follow this link to Rees's page at GoodReads -- and then click on "...more" to try to get to the remainder of the abbreviated bio. You run round in circles going nowhere! Here's the link:

Quince is a very good book ... but it's clearly a book written my a male, for males, about males. The romantic angle you get to expect when you're reading a book by a female writer (the feel-good sensation, even when the material is a long way from "fluffy bunny") isn't there. Quince does not have a happy ending. Two people do not settle down to a life together.

In fact, the opposite is true. The central character (you have a hard time saying "hero") is Stephen Faith, a young gay guy who goes out to Spain to teach the English language to a kid called Pablo, the son of the local mayor. He falls in love with Pablo, but when the Spanish Civil War breaks out he gets caught up in the meat grinder ... Pablo betray him, which lands Stephen in prison ... and he doesn't just fall out of love with Pablo, he falls out of love with love.

This is the exact opposite of a novel that's about a guy's journey from the promiscuous sleep-around to the love affair and the settling down. Stephen goes the opposite route. After Pablo, betrayal and some bad experiences in prison, he becomes the promiscuous sleep-around guy. And with the "epilogue" or tag taking place in 1986, about 50 years after the main body of the story, you know he never found love again. Never found a person to settle down with.

Quince is gritty but at the same time it's casually under-written. Nothing much is detailed. In some places (esp. the prison scenes) it reads like Rees's notes. A thread of storyline is jotted down and not developed. This is how Rees manages to skate or skip over a lot of material that would get heavy if he wrote it properly. Stephen is tortured in prison, but you can read it without much hardship, because it's done as a series of bald statements.

It's also a short-ish book, something like 70,000 words, max. You can read it in one sitting. The characters are drawn in shorthand, but they "ring true," and it's set in a time period and place that are so unusual. Everything I know about the Spanish Civil War comes from reading this book.

For this (the research and unusual nature of the "where and when"), and for the absolute challenge it presents to the reader, I recommend it. Things don't come out right in the end. The book does not recommend falling in love and settling down. Nobody comes along and rescues Stephen, and he apparently spends the rest of his love life in public loos and so on. It's sad in many ways, and yet even while it's being sad the book has a reality that's almost alien. Hard to explain ... you'll have to read it for yourself.

Recommended for the above reasons: it's good to stretch yourself occasionally, not just read the easy stuff. AG's rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars ... because it's a difficult book as well as being unforgettable. You can get it at Amazon. Not sure of the edition. The only I have (I scanned to cover) is from Third House, put out in 1988.