Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gents: Warwick Collins.


Gents, by Warwick Collins, is not a new novel. It was actually published 10 years ago, but it has had a mysterious revival in 2007 due to a paperback edition and vigorous displaying by Borders and Waterstones. The novel is dedicated to Scott Pack, once the head buyer for Waterstones, now the Commercial Director of The Friday Project Press, the book’s publisher. Reviewing Gents on his own blog, Scott Pack has this to say: "It is a lost classic. It is a masterpiece of modern literature. It is a telling parable of racial and sexual tolerance. It is a book that should be on every self-respecting shelf in the land." The novel would appear to have benefited from some energetic marketing (for which Scott Pack was famous) and reviewing! In a comment note, Scott Pack also adds that he has yet to find a reader who does not like the book. Well, there are quite a few on Amazon, and there is another one here.

The novel centres around three characters, the initiate to toilet cleansing, the evangelical Ezekiel Murphy, the pragmatical boss, Josiah Reynolds, and the idealistic Rastafarian, Jason. Together, these three black straight Caribbean men manage “the swamp”, a Gents near Charing Cross, London. Their daily problems are “the reptiles”, the mainly gay white men who meet in the toilet cubicles for anonymous sex. The scenario sounds seedy, but the novel is anything but: it is written using a light, lyrical prose, is free of modern lavatorial humour, and has wit and conviction. The climax of the novel comes in Chapter 18 when Jason disturbs a “tall, elegant black man in a leather jacket” “Kneelin’ down in front of Whitey”. After a number of provocative comments, Jason assaults the black gay man, whilst Ez briefly speculates whether Whitey made the black man gay or he chose his sexual orientation for himself.

The problem with Gents is that “racial and sexual tolerance” is simply a matter of being distanced and non-judgemental. There is no attempt in the novel to analyse or explore the events that take place. The author approaches events with a detachment as cold (and as undescribed) as the sexual encounters taking place in the cubicles. Consequently, the result is a novel with little substance that gains weight from its linguistic precision. It is a great pretence. At the close of the novel, to stay in work, Ez and Josiah do a u-bend turn: they reverse their policy of sexual cleansing (as advocated by the Council), buy the Gents for themselves and live off the revenue that “the reptiles” contribute. Sexual predators meet predatory entrepreneurs. A “telling parable”? Or a tale that some are too quick to see as well-endowed? I am biased towards the latter.

3 comments:

Unsane said...

hahaha--funny last line!

by the way, check out michael tan's campaign speech on my blog under the heading of 'secular party principles'. We are co-candidates for a forthcoming national election in australia.

eshuneutics said...

Tell me more about The Secular Party. I liked the video a lot!

Unsane said...

Not much to say. it is a very, very new party, contesting the religification of the governments of the west.

Here is more:

http://www.secular.org.au:80/election.php