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.



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