Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Moving in Frozen Frames

Such Fine BoysSuch Fine Boys by Les Brookes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I felt myself pulled into this story right away. So many of the scenes and situations resonated with similar events which had occurred in my own life. It was, for me,  a painting which moved when looked at closely, or it or at least it appeared to. Or was what I saw just the flicker of shadow seen from the corner of my eye? Stretched on the frame of the 1960’s, the canvas so tight you can see the strands and colours of daylight peeping through the pin-prick holes, the author has then painted a broad wash of faun across the hempen fibres and without letting it dry out fully he’s gone on to apply a broad coat of the ’seventies with its yellows and golden browns. On top of all this, Brookes has laid the pattern of the ’eighties with its greedy shades of green, profit and spite.

    Because he hasn’t let the colours completely dry, the chemistry of the picture is still active, or so it seems, because it’s one of those pictures where you stare fascinated at one corner of colour and activity and see the Pub, the Black Horse, with its northern bon homie and mateyness. Billy the cheerful young barman is one of the main attractions with his banter and his nimble pulling of pints and halves, his smile and his sexy bum. Move your eye to another area of the painting, and the colours look twisted and Gothic; what started as a skilled attempt at the pointy noses and ears of hobgoblins has melted and run into a sickly dark smudge. That’s Arthur.

    Billy and Matt strike up a relationship, which seems to work, in different ways depending on whose point of view you’re considering. Matt comes over to me as pushy and selfish, verging at times into the mind-set of a spoilt brat, with poorly educated Billy tagging along behind as the sexy victim. It was at the beginning of Part Two, seen through Billy’s eyes, that I shouted with joy, realising that I was being given a dose of the Rashomon effect. This had become my favourite literary form when I first viewed it in the TV Series Talking to a Stranger, way back in 1966. Sad it is that this form has suffered so much neglect. So my spirits rose as further I realised, leafing my way through the pages of Part Two that I now found myself drawing parallels with the classic tale A Case of Knives by Candia McWilliam, fine mistress and purveyor of matters literary that she is.

A Case of Knives, however, is a Rashomon work which winds you up in an ever-tightening spring, whereas Such Fine Boys coils you up in Part One and Part Two before releasing its tension and letting its latent energy bleed and wash back into the picture. It’s as if the artist had decided that something wasn’t quite right with the painting yet, so he’d sprayed it with a fine mist to encourage the hues to blend some more. Part Three tells the tale from another point of view, from someone we hardly know. Another of Matt’s pick-ups, he’s lucky that he’s even had the mention of a name. He ends up feeling used, feeling that Matt is a complete shit in his handling of matters of the heart, and here I have to agree with Clint (that’s his name!). If the tale is seen as driven by narrative, then it slowly starts to run out of steam in this section, and if judged on those criteria the story would deflate.

    Yet for me, it was deeper than that. Even though the story had almost petered to a complete halt (and I must confess I was hoping that things were going to tighten up from now on), the book was seen in yet a different light by Part Four. From an individual's perspective, we had moved to becoming the all-seeing eye. If the novel has been freshly sprayed with water mist in Part Three to slow the drying, in Part Four, in sunny Greece, we see the entire painting put out to dry and harden, to freeze the frames and the cameos of the characters. We can see that Billy really is beautiful and despite his promiscuous actions he’s little more than an innocent boy at heart who didn’t, and shouldn’t grow up to be a man. The canvas is hardening nicely now. The murky smudge in the corner is all that remains of Arthur, the wet character of Matt is starting to gain grain and substance as he leaves his brattish traits in the past. As it dries to a hard nail-tapping finish, the author has frozen time. Nothing can happen now, and we are glad, knowing what the end would be, were the story to continue to run.

   I found the synopsis  disappointing: it told me too much of what I'd rather have found out for myself yet left unsaid the factors which would entice me into a book which turned out to be a fascinating and unusual experience. It would be great if the author had another story in him, waiting to break out.

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