Friday, April 22, 2016

Equivocator by Stevie Davies

Equivocator is the first novella by the Welsh author Stevie Davies. Her previous fictional work includes novels (such as the prize-winning Boy Blue) and short stories (that include "Mr Duda", runner-up for the prestigious Rhys Davies prize). Equivocator, 92 pages in length, combines the characteristics of both previous forms: it possesses thematic levels and poignant vignettes; it blends the poetic style of her detailed novels with brief and sharp satirical insights. The result is a short, but nonethless intense reading experience.

The Porter, here, is a gatekeeper, a liminal character at the doors of Hell. Life swings both ways and is hinged on double-speak. This is a truly Hermetic characteristic, for Hermes, god of tricky communication, stands also at the entrance to the Underworld. Equivocator is a novella  that absorbs these mythological levels and studies how people deceive and present truths that are half-truths. The great equivocator alluded to by Shakespeare's porter is Father Henry Garnet who lied in God's name and therefore committed no lie (in his mind). The equivocators in Stevie Davies' novella are Jack Messenger and his son, Sebastian. Jack, the Hermetic messenger, is a writer whose life is a fiction. His son quests throughout the novel to come to terms with his past: what is fiction and what is real? How does the present equivocally write the past?

Gay male characters have occurred before in Stevie Davies' work. In Primavera (1990) there exists the relationship of the 70 year old Jacques and his much younger lover Ralph. (They are a vital part of a novel about how spring rejuvenates winter). Another tender relationship is portrayed in "Ballooning with Habibi" from The Lonely Crowd (2015). In Equivocator, the gay relationship of Sebastian and Jess takes centre-stage. It is a relationship built on deception but one that works towards honesty. As a committed Miltonist and Feminist, Stevie Davies will know that curious section in Milton's divorce tracts where he resorts to a self-made myth of male-to-male love (a prime example of Miltonic equivocation) to justify the true basis of heterosexual marriage-- and how to get rid of a wife you no longer require! Sebastian, like Milton's Eros, must cross beyond sexual desire and cheating into a realm of Anteros and shared, homogeneal love based on equality and the truths created by two people (not one: the doubleness of equivocation is surrendered to a shared twinning). 

The style of Equivocator is forever changing and this captures the Protean nature of Sebastian's nemesis, the mysterious Professor Salvatore, master of salvation (for academia). He is a mirrored Hermes, a Spencerian Archimago, another dubious messenger, like Sebastian's father. Salvatore entrances Sebastian at the opening of the narrative "like a door ajar"-- a true liminal description of a borderline character who is a threshold between what is without and what is within. The novella's changing styles--like the shifting sands on which Sebastian and Salvatore meet-- match medium to message with consummate skill. Iran's Zagros Mountains, Manchester's Rusholme, the Gower's coastline...merge into a flickering storyline. It is telling that Sebastian learns a surprising truth about Jess during a play-within-a-play in their London flat. Reality topples into fakery and then picks itself up again in a new form. The publishers of Equivocator, Parthian, never mention Shakespeare in their blurb, which is a pity, for in this, the 400th year since The Bard's death, Equivocator stands as a wonderful tribute to Shakespeare. Jack Messenger's cross-dressing, the feminisation of the masculine father who humiliated his gay son for being feminine and not a real man, is worthy of Twelfth Night. And the crossing of gender, female author into male narrator, is pure Shakespeare too! A "master-mistress" is the muse of Equivocator.

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