Archive for March, 2017

Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave

HTMPeople who like coming of age novels will love this book – and it was written a lot later than most books of this genre.

It’s really a eulogy to John and, as such, an idealised portrait. It oozes sentimentality.  Love came easily but the pleasant description made the ending all that more impacting.

One member of our group thought that the first chapter was incredibly badly written but most agreed that the book was readable on the whole.

The slang is of its time and place but it is easy to get the drift of what the words and phrases mean. Yet he’s writing about youngsters 15 younger than him self.

The protagonist doesn’t kid himself that it’s a phase.

He tells mother about his first wet dream – that seem very modern to me.

A smoking room at school – 1977–  such a thing happened in England around that time too.

Title from football, though not spelt out

He doesn’t pray even when John is injured. Nor is there any dramatic rejection of religion either, which you might expect, given the circumstances.

Many of us thought that Tim was callous in his putting aside of John when he wanted an open relationship and, later, when he moved away.

The advent of AIDs was distressing, the medical procedures close to the knuckle of those who have experienced them and the last rights was moving. I usually avoid any books with AIDs in them.

Someone who knows the people portrayed says that people have a misunderstanding of what the Caleos are like, based on how Tim painted them in the novel.

“But the Caleos aren’t actually like that … They were just middle class, salt-of-the-earth Australians, trapped in a time. At the end of the day they were there, with John Caleo, right at the end, supporting their son and loving their son.

“Yes, they didn’t get along with Tim Conigrave, but a lot of people didn’t get along with Tim Conigrave. He was hard work, and his friends would say that. As much as they loved him, sometimes he was hard work.”

The lovers have a 2 hour phone call – am I sexist in thinking of teenage girls as best friends?

HTM bkQuotations:

We sat cuddling over the phone.

I felt used

‘I reached out and touched his hair. He turned and kissed my hand. I moved closer until we were standing against each other. He smelt like soap and clean clothes. Gentle. Just holding and kissing gently. If this had been it, if I had died then, I would have said it was enough’

“You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly. Ci vedremo lassu, angelo.”

“I guess the hardest thing is having so much love for you and it somehow not being returned. I develop crushes all the time, but that is just misdirected need for you. You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned.”

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HOLDING THE MAN – Tommy Murphy, adapted from the book by Tim Conigrave

 

HTM3The original production, directed by David Berthold, is one of the most successful Australian stage productions in recent years, playing in most Australian capital cities and London’s West End.

Murphy also wrote the script for the 2015 film adaptation, directed by Neil Armfield.

It’s nowhere near as absorbing as the novel.

 The action is made up of multiple episodes, some little more than snapshots, inhabited by people with no back-story. The parents of both boys are reduced to little more than stereotypes and yet how they must have suffered, as must Tim’s partner, John, whose character is also thinly written.

 Act 2 makes many demands on the actors, reflecting the bonding exercises mentioned in the novel.

Murphy has created a flawed play from a flawed book

HTM 4A foot(y)note: The phrase ‘holding the man’ is not explained in the memoir or the play. It is not just that it comes from John’s sport. In Australian Rules Football, ‘holding the man’ is an offence that incurs a penalty; in his case, a cruel and undeserved one.

(There’s plenty of scenes in this film of male bodies colliding with athletic vigour, though also with the kind of tenderness which may seem foreign to the blokey physicality that comes with contact sports. It’s a smart joke about a society that fiercely regulates the nature of romantic relationships, but it’s also the funniest thing about this otherwise very straightforward gay love story.)

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Children of the sun by Max Schaefer

COTS2(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

1970: Fourteen-year-old Tony becomes seduced by Britain’s neo-Nazi movement, sucked into a world of brutal racist violence and bizarre ritual. It’s an environment in which he must hide his sexuality, in which every encounter is potentially deadly.

2003: James is a young writer, living with his boyfriend. In search of a subject, he begins looking into the Far Right in Britain and its secret gay membership. He becomes particularly fascinated by Nicky Crane, one of the leaders of the neo-Nazi movement who came out in 1992 before dying a year later of AIDS.

The two narrative threads of this extraordinarily assured and ambitious first novel follow Tony through the seventies, eighties, and nineties, as the nationalist movement splinters and weakens; and James through a year in which he becomes dangerously immersed in his research. After risky flirtations with individuals on far right websites, he starts receiving threatening phone calls—the first in a series of unexpected events that ultimately cause the lives of these two very different men to unforgettably intersect.
I had never understood the Hindu nationalism if the BJP in India until I read of the belief in the Four Yugas being used as a justification. There’s also a pagan interpretation – the rolling hills of ye olde English countryside.

Plus loads of violence and racist jokes: ‘Bloke walks into a pub with a crocodile, goes up to the bar and says, “Do you serve niggers in here?”‘

To the blacks’ almost dutiful sounds of outrage, Steve climbs inside with his mates following.

`Governor goes, “Course we do, we’re not racist.” So the bloke says, “I’ll have a pint of lager and a nigger for the crocodile.”‘

COTSQuotations:

….sees himself repeated in every direction like a hall of mirrors, and  understands that this will not wreck him, he is not distinct from it and floating fragile on its surface, but rather it is him, of him and he is part of it, the shouts, the salutes, the sieg heils coming from within and around him alike. With one force, one voice, he fills the courtyard.

(a skin is) able to walk anywhere, his passport the astonishment of the sharp mind in the brainless stereotype…

…This animal’s only secondary sexual characteristics are his braces, worn up to exaggerate the width of his shoulders, down to emphasise the curve of his bum.

“This whole sub-skin thing. You get your rocks off by dressing on the ne plus ultra of the lumpenproletariat and pretending you’re powerless. It’s classic English guilt.”

“Tony wraps his legs around the bundled sheets and murmurs to them in the dark, as if they were Chris, staying.”

She leans back her head, closes her eyes, and recites: ‘When justice is crushed, when evil reigns supreme, then I come. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born, age after age.’

She tells him of the cycle of ages, the Yugas, as laid down in the great epics of the Aryans, which repeats through all eternity. She traces the inexorable decline from the Krita Yuga, the Age of Truth — the Golden Age, whose memory all cultures, from the Greeks and Japanese to the Sumerians and Romans, some­how preserve — to the current, fourth, Dark Age, the Kali Y uga, the Era of Gloom, in which human selfishness and con­ceit allows man to overrun the planet while its once-thick mantle of forest declines. Whole species of proud wild crea­tures are killed off, replaced by an obnoxious and expanding stream of dreary, vulgar, worthless two-legged mammals, and everything is done to encourage that mad increase in number and loss in quality. Everything is done to keep the sickly, the crippled, the freaks of nature, unfit to work and unfit to live, from dying. Thousands of innocent, healthy animals are tor­tured in search of ‘new treatments’, so that deficient men, whom Nature has anyhow condemned to death, might last a few more months. The healthy are made unhealthy through joyless work, overcrowded homes, lack of privacy, unnatural food, their brains softened by advertising and propaganda. Lies are called truth and truth falsehood, and the speakers of truth, the God-like men, are defeated, their followers humbled, their memory slandered, while the masters of lies are hailed as saviours.

And she tells him of Kalki, the last One, the Destroyer, des­tined to clear the ground for the building of a new age of truth. It was Kalki of whom, with that unfailing cosmic intuition, the Fiihrer said, ‘I know that Somebody must come forth and meet our situation. I have sought, and found him nowhere; and therefore I have taken upon myself to do the preparatory work; only the most urgent preparatory work.’ She tells him that Kalki, unlike Hitler, will act with unprecedented ruthlessness. He will spare not one enemy of the divine cause: not one out­spoken opponent, nor even one of the heretical, the racially bastardized, the unhealthy, hesitating, all-too-human: not a single one of those who, in body or in character or in mind, bear the stamp of the fallen Ages.

`And we like to hope,’ she says, ‘that the memory of the One-before-the-last — of Adolf Hitler — will survive, at least in songs and symbols, in that long Age of earthly Perfection which Kalki, the last One, is to open. We like to hope that the Lords of the new Time-Cycle, men of his own blood and faith, will render him divine honours, through rites full of meaning and potency, in the cool shade of the endless regrown forests, on the beaches, or on inviolate mountain peaks, facing the rising sun.’

`Everything’s fucking connected. We know that by now, surely? Chaos theory: you have a wank and there’s an earth­quake off Sumatra. Doesn’t tell us anything, apart from maybe you should wank less. I think I’m drunk. Come on, darling,’ he said to Tom. ‘Let’s go.’

The houses lining the road had gone; it led now between wild grass and trees. I had the intense feeling that I was walk­ing back through history and might never see a town again, before I realized this was Hampstead Heath. The sun made occasional low winks through the trees to my left, and shone off the bodies of passing cars, which I took as confirmation that I was still in the same time after all. There was a strange, mounting silence, less an absence of noise than a thing itself, swelling thickly into space. I could feel its substance as I stepped into it: it shivered, as if living. I felt the need to get away from the road; I thought that way I might longer pre­serve my grasp on this palpable silence-thing, and somehow examine it. I stepped off the path into grass and mud, lurched a little as I remembered to attend to where I walked. What I saw ahead could have been the entrance to a forest: it was not a London park of level surfaces and formal plans; it was barely London at all. As I stepped between the trees I had the vague idea of news reports, the bodies of lone ramblers, victims of malefic rituals or damaged minds, and wondered if now was the best time to be doing this; but if there was a threat I could not feel it. Yellow light rippled across me in patterns; the bark of trees was damp and scarred; my boots churned the mud, where water glinted in tiny pools. The land rose sharply and took effort to climb. The sun came through gaps, heating patches of air like puffs of breath warm on my face. I passed over whole dioramas of labouring insects, with their vast appalling discipline, and there was a scent building, rich, sweet and heavy, as if it were summer and this a field of flowers. Ahead of me, on the crest of the rise, the sun glowed through bare branches so vividly they thinned into absence before it; as I walked they moved across its surface, and it pulsed. I didn’t have the vocabulary to tell myself what I saw; I had never paid attention to the garden at home, didn’t even know what trees these were. I grasped at names: oak, elm, hazel, ash; fern and ivy; peonies, dandelions, daffodils. What did you call these bright yellow autumn flowers? The silence was unbroken and yet also filled with the manifold hum of bees — was this even the time of year for bees? I felt them anyway, an impromptu retinue, rustling the air at my neck. The sun that waited at the top of the slope was full in my face and gave off an unexpected heat. Dark green needles of grass wove vivid carpets on the higher ground. So this was how it felt, revelation: shimmering light on the beckoning crest of a hill, the colours of things sat­urating, a fine accruing surface detail, as if looking close at a familiar painting and seeing for the first time the texture of the oils. That inner intensity you knew as a boy and had since for­gotten spilling and flooding into the physical world, into warmth and colour, the vibrant thrum of awoken nature. I stumbled up, found the summit, swayed in place as the sun­light pounded me. The land fell away ahead, and all across it I could see meadows unfurling in emerald and gold, thick mantles of trees, their dense canopies merged, falling and rising over distant hills. A vast flock of birds swirled in the sky; a squirrel nudged my feet without fear; a pair of dogs, their fur thick and black, and the size, it seemed, of donkeys, lumbered from nowhere up the path towards me, smelled something on the wind, gave a laughing bark, were gone, plunging through waist-high stalks like the waves of the sea: I walked forward in their wake; the ground dipped and rose; I bobbed in the tall grass. I knew what vision I had been granted: Imperium, the new dawn, the Satanic aeon; the return of the golden age long lost to algebra, industry, abstract thought, foolish insistence on the pre-eminence and commonality of man. The dogs were wolves, the wolves what men could be, and they chased the power to conquer galaxies.

Nicky Crane was alive, and before me, now, the city burned: I had reached another crest and there it was, far below and tiny, its dull anaemic greys glistening with the reflected red of the flames consuming it, the air, even here, thick with the caramel taste of burning flesh. And through its smoke, the risen sun. The old age never died; it was in retreat; it slept, while all the time its ancient guardians, LOKI OKKULT GESELLSCHAFT, LUPINE OPERIE GERULI, LEGATI ORDINIS GALAXICI, tended it with secret rites, sacrifice magnified by powerful relics passed on in unwritten rituals of initiation

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