Friday, May 18, 2007

Review: Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett

Neil Bartlett. Skin Lane
Published by Serpent's Tail

Reviewed by Shaun Frisky

Let’s face it. Men in fur are sexy. Among the many treasures to be found within Skin Lane is a ravishing young straight man, aptly named Beauty, wearing a fur coat and driving the book’s protagonist to the brink of insanity with lust. This is a book which fearlessly unlocks the forbidden door of Bluebeard’s castle, exposing the sometimes sinister mechanisms of queer desire. After reading through the entire book during a few long late nights in bed with a naked man at my side, I was hungry to see the writer himself. It’s not often that when going to see a superstar of the stage and page like Neil Bartlett read from his new book that you are greeted at the door by the author himself and offered a glass of wine. I swear he was trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me!

At Gay’s the Word bookshop in London Neil gave his reading to a rapt audience tightly packed in between the shelves throbbing with queer titles. Of course, given his work with the theatre, Neil was a natural performer delivering a few sweet samples from the text. Afterwards he discussed the investigative journey writing this tense novel led him on. Mr F, the character at the center of the book, leads a tightly controlled life as a fur cutter. During the summer of 1967 he finds his ordered existence disrupted by a disturbing recurring dream where he discovers a naked male body strung up in his bathroom. After being frightened by it at first, he grows more and more curious and attached to it. Mr F searches throughout the novel to discover who the body belongs to and Bartlett says that this gave him an impetus to finish the book because he didn’t know what the ending would be himself. The result is a very literary thriller which wriggles through all the seedy dark corners of one gay man’s sexual imagination.Skin Lane manages to successfully encapsulate how the urge to fuck can overwhelm a man’s life when continuously pushed to the back of his mind. It also charts the tragic path we all must travel from the figure of youthful beauty to the aged beast with his pernicious sexual obsessions. Desire makes gay men covet the handsome, young man’s body turning it into an object we not only want to lick, stroke and penetrate, but actually possess for our own. Perhaps the most nail-biting aspect to this thriller is the degree to which you might relate to Mr F yourself. I’m sorry to report that after trying to get me tipsy Neil didn’t sternly order me to get into the car with a beast-like growl, but I was satisfied with the mental hard-on his novel gave me. I only hope that we don’t have to wait another decade for Neil’s next book.

Many thanks and kisses to Kurt for the original photographs shot for this review. See more of his work here.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Triple Review: Favas Can Be Fatal by Priscilla Royal, Murder by Mascot by Mary Vermillion, and A Grave Opening by Jeanne Harris

Priscilla Royal. Favas Can Be Fatal
Published by Alyson Publications

Mary Vermillion. Murder by Mascot
Published by Alyson Publications

Jeanne Harris. A Grave Opening
Published by Bywater Books

Reviewed by Selina Rodrigues

White wine and burritos, the murder of a beautiful, brutal basketball star, and dead bodies in Aztec sites: these novels are not the tough urban streets or foggy Edwardian lanes of British crime fiction!

Alice Douglas, the main character in the strangely titled Flavas Can Be Fatal, won me over with her dry humour and laconic asides to the reader. She follows the trail of fatal food poisoning, a stabbing and the closure of her best friend’s (and, as a dedicated foodie, her favourite) restaurant. By turns, Alice charms and harasses her weird and wonderful suspects. Despite a few minor plot-holes, you’ll want to know whodunit in this tale of the surreal relationship between sleepy small town characters and the powerful, beautiful folk of San Francisco bay. Recommended as a laid back summer read, accompanied by your favourite tipple!

Murder by Mascot concerns the murder of a college sports/sex hero. Mara Gilgannon is a radio journalist, working in the charged political and competitive arena of the university campus. A procession of troubled suspects haunt Mara’s hours and she tries to untangle the sexually charged loyalties and friendships of a competitive, paranoid sports community. She is also trying to fathom her own lingering feelings for her ex and lust for her part time lover. How soon is too soon to jump into bed with someone new? Why isn’t everyone as out and proud as her and her politicised friends? The pace of this gritty novel falters slightly in the middle but some of final scenes are chilling.

In A Grave Opening, Delia Ironfoot is prepared for an emotional reunion with the family and community she left in Arkansas when her career was destroyed through prejudice and libel. However, she is quickly distracted by the attacks on her family and friends, all seemingly linked with an ancient burial plot that she has inherited. This has the least developed plot and puzzlingly, the author notes that she has taken liberties with some of the geography and archaeological periods, which are central to the story. This is a shame; they are detailed and convincingly drawn and it is slightly disorientating to the reader. Delia tussles with family loyalty and identity, and temptations of the flesh and heart come in very appealing but different guises! This novel’s strength is its exploration of the unexpected meanderings of the human heart, leading to a poignant but realistic ending.

Selina Rodrigues is a writer and lives in London.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Review: Killing Me Softly: Morir Amando by Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco

Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco. Killing me Softly: Morir Amando
Published by Suspect Thoughts Press
Reviewed by Kay Sexton

Ibáñez-Carrasco’s short story collection peels the gloss off the Western gay scene and reveals something uglier underneath. The superficial lifestyle of drug-taking hedonism is dissected to lay bare the short, often bitter life of rough trade and the long, painful coming to terms with AIDS, rejection and poverty that follows.

The title story contains the key to this collection: an exploration of why love goes wrong and the hideous outcomes of confusing need with affection. It is a thoughtful and satisfying tale and brings the reader insight into the many kinds of exile Ibáñez-Carrasco describes with superlative skill. Given that he can write with beauty and power about relationships, both straight and gay, it is a shame these twelve stories are almost relentlessly focused on the worst experiences of the poor and disenfranchised.

The surrealism of some of the tales, like that of the vengeful shape-shifter, sits a little uneasily with the gritty realism of his depictions of street life in Canada, and this mismatch weakens the overall coherence of the collection. However, each individual story is packed with detail and moves swiftly enough to satisfy the reader, and the description of dispossession, of all kinds, is fresh and powerful.

As well as writing for the UK's premier sustainability journal, Green Futures, Pushcart-nominated Kay Sexton has recently completed ‘Green Thought in an Urban Shade’, a words and pictures exhibition with painter Fion Gunn that was shown in London, Dublin and Beijing. She has had more than ninety short stories published. Kay blogs about writing fiction at and has a regular column at