Gents – Warwick Collins

Gs  originalThis book divided us among age-lines. Older members may or may not have admitted to familiarity with cottaging but the majority, in the mid to late twenties, viewed it as disgusting.

This novel is very funny and is, whether it intended to be or not, a paean of praise to Capitalism – privatise nationalised industries.

Cleaners and those who work on the entrance kiosk in a public lavatory are faced with redundancy because it is used for immoral purposes. Police have been hiding in the roof and spying through holes which they have drilled.  The workers decide to buy the place and make money out of those who use it.

The black workers muse about those who cottage, whom they call ‘reptiles’: They got a compulsion, some stay in a lock-up for lunch, eating sandwiches and drinking tea, it’s better for them in here than out on the street, whitey too cold, imagine kneeling in front of whitey, to disguise the fact that there are two men in one cubicle, one puts his shoes in a shopping bags.

One of them is in bed with his wife Martha. Both are devout Adventists. Ez has just told her about the activities in some of the cubicles. He continues…

“Mr Reynolds and Jason, they have a war. Keepin’ back the tide of perversion. Always looking to throw someone out.”
“You help them?”
“Sometime.”
Martha was silent for a several seconds. She said softly, “You not liking your work?”
“Strange thing is, after a while you don’t notice it. Just one of the facts.”
Martha turned towards him. He felt the equable shake of the bed and the movement of her large hips. He moved towards her, into her warmth.
Her perplexed face studied him for a few seconds. She relaxed. “Everyone different,” Martha said. “Some people different shakes. Some people gay.”

There are some acute observations, similar to those of a sociology PhD thesis called  Tearoom Trade, by an Episcopalian priest, Laud Humphreys study called into question some of the stereotypes associated with the anonymous male-male sexual encounters in public places, demonstrating that many of the participants lived otherwise conventional lives as family men and respected members of their communities, and that their activities posed no danger of harassment to straight males

The workers realise that they, as black men, have much in common with their clients: both suffer discrimination, both have a hidden language – Patois and Polari. The author claims his book was stimulated in part by his memories of apartheid when he lived as a child in South Africa.

In the end, they conclude that reptile not dangerous. Danger come from man who hate reptile. Reptile welcome at de reptile farm.

The author died in 2013 at the age of 64. He’d published a tenth anniversary Gsedition of Gents. The Times reviewed it and called it ‘a classic moral fable about understanding and respect.’

He’d also written BLAIR — The Accidental Fascist, about Tony Blair’s seeming love of Western military intervention. He was so sure of his own talent that he refused to be edited.

Only 172 pages, you can almost hear the constant running water and, perhaps, smell odours you’d rather not. Perhaps our young members should try reading it again. Also, it’s a pity we didn’t have any black people in our group. They might have had a different slant on the book.

There is another review of this book here. 

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1 Comment »

  1. […] We did this book as long ago as May 2006 and a review of it is at https://gaymensbookclubbristol.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/gents-warwick-collins/ […]

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