Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett

SLThink Beauty and the Beast.

This was our group’s favourite book of the year – probably of all time. There are good, vivid descriptions, pauses in sentences are broken into paragraphs to give a sense of the movement of time, and accurate historical references e.g. Detroit July 27, 1967 (riot after police raided Blind Pig – an illegal alcohol place), London storms August 1967

Mr. F is 46 and has been a Head Cutter at the same furrier business for 33 years, having risen through the ranks from his start as a sweeper. He came from a time before fashions in men’s clothes so he wears the same suit style, didn’t change his mind about things, takes the same route to work every day, past bomb site rubble, avoids physical contact on the tube and values his privacy. He is a perfectionist as he is the best cutter in London and wears a waistcoat and tie even in very hot weather. (He must have all the sheets on his bed, whatever the weather – and this is the hot summer of 1967.) There is no need for an alarm clock as he follows the exact same routine daily, stirs the tea pot 3 times exactly, though he once leaves crockery unwashed on draining board. He leaves the bathroom window open all day, is still a virgin (has a body “well preserved, but largely unused.” and he does not respond to women’s innuendo and banter. Typical of men of his type, he had a cold father and elder brothers and remembers the smell of cigarette smoke on their clothes when the brothers come back. He goes to galleries and museums at weekends. At work, he becomes infatuated with the sixteen-year-old nephew of the boss who is being trained up and he leaves times gaps between looking at him, ‘Beauty’ of 2 hours. He is aware of thoughts, not feelings and is with him 8 ½ hours every day. He treats the boy as his father treated him. He asks himself, ‘Why is it that young men can always tell when they are being stared at, even from behind?…could feel his eyes on his arse.’

On the tube, he doesn’t read an article about the Commons debate about decriminalising abortion and homosexuality because he feels that it can’t possibly be about him and not sure if abortion is going to be made easier or harder.

He takes a swift walk home after the fire and discovers that it only takes half the time that the tube would take. London really did stop at night then. On losing his job, he keeps a cutting of a woman in the coat he had made and he walks a different way to new job and insists on being called by his full name, ‘Mr. Freeman’

The author likes musing on places and how they have changed and who has traversed them at different times. He reimagines Wilde’s London and is led down unfamiliar streets by men who lived a hundred years ago. In this book, Mr F feasts his eyes on a young man asleep on a train, or follows another man he encounters at Cannon Street Station.

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