Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: I Must Confess by Rupert Smith

I Must Confess
Rupert Smith

Published by Cleis Press

Reviewed by Radcliff Gregory

This welcome reprint of the critically-acclaimed 1998 novel I Must Confess revisits the historically significant decades that saw homosexuality decriminalised, become fashionable, and then demonised all over again by the media. This stinging, complex satire of the celebrity confessional autobiography is one of the most original and convincing books I have read in a long time.

The titular character, Marc LeJeune has a mysterious ability to inveigle his way into assorted facets of the public spotlight - and labyrinthine notoriety. Alas, not everyone immediately recognises his unique talents, and so he has to run the gauntlet of potential mentors and promoters. And they all have his fame and welfare at heart – don’t they?

It does seem, for a few alarming years, that the world will never be fortunate enough to savour LeJeune’s remarkable repertoire of talent: acting, singing, writing, fashion icon, revolutionary, and “self-confessed bisexual.” Fortunately, his drama teacher intervenes to spare Marc the ignominy of obscurity, by offering him starring roles in risque, homoerotic adaptations of classic plays – at school. It is also ‘Phyllis’ (Mr Phillips) who lures his young protégé to the bright lights of London, to a claustrophobic but strange existence.

However, mere squalor isn’t enough to prevent a thorough-bred celebrity making his name. Nor is a badly bungled theft. Somehow our hero talks his intended crime victim into leniency, and finds himself in the hands of a genius – of the most sinister variety.

In the days before the phenomenon of reality television and multiple viewing choices, and when ‘decency’ was obligatory, ‘destiny’ could be a difficult delusion to achieve. Particularly for someone whose maverick ‘potential’ knows no bounds. A reality check could take a little longer, but is, mercifully, easy enough to ignore. And LeJeune is fortunate enough to learn in his infancy not to let little things like legal proceedings and tragedy stand in his way.

Rupert Smith has skilfully critiqued the psychodynamics of the process of making, breaking, and reformulating ‘stars’, from the scouting creators through to the mincing machine of the tabloid press. He addresses how much of this is understood in the minds of the endless procession of bodies churned out for public delectation. If you ever wondered how some people achieve sporadic hiccups of fame, you need to read I Must Confess. The novel will also seductively lead you to speculate which celebrities may have inadvertently provided inspiration. Smith draws on his lengthy experience of writing about, and interviewing, hundreds of showbiz personalities to devastating and hilarious effect.

However, this is no lightweight satire, poking fun at people who are briefly paid too much, and then too little, to temporarily represent the assumed ideals of a nation. The novel is laugh-out-loud funny, but is full of snapshots that tell the real story behind the headlines that keep the celebrity machine running.

Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudonym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to pull in a little PhD research at Loughborough University.



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