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Man's World by Rupert Smith

Man's World (2010)

by Rupert Smith

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I really loved this and it taught me that I should stop opening every book with the cynical assumption that I'm going to hate it (no, really, what the hell is that all about?). The book has two stories running parallel to each other, one in the present and one in the fifties. The present has the character Robert with the freedom to be out and indulging in some of the facets of gay culture, and the past has Michael, in the closet, and doing his national service in the RAF.

Firstly, I thought I'd probably be inclined to dislike Robert's storyline because it smacked of excess with his designer clothes, his gym body, the drugs, the clubs the general Queer as Folk vibe (which is odd because that's one of my favourite TV shows ever). I also thought I'd prefer the fifties storyline because my brain was already reading it through some Merchant/Ivory filter. Yeah... the problem here is me.

Anyway, I loved both timelines and the characters too. I started off feeling bad for Michael's predicament of being homosexual at a time when it was considered illegal, but near the end I actually felt more sorry for Robert. I suppose the characters from the fifties timeline just seemed tougher for having endured so much, whereas Robert has a freedom they never really enjoyed and yet there's more of a fragility about him which makes you ignore his obsession with his abs.

Also, I loved one particular moment in this story where Robert and a character called Stuart (ugh, the worst) go to a sex club and Robert observes that it's the illegality of the atmosphere that holds the appeal for the clubbers, which is in stark contrast to Michael's closeted existence during a time where homosexual acts could land you in prison. It's such a simple little observation about how an atmosphere of danger adds to the thrill, but it was suddenly like watching these two timelines vibrate against each other like two guitar strings. It was a very cool moment.

Yes, absolutely adored this. Wonderful - touching, poignant and surprisingly funny too. ( )
  h_d | Mar 31, 2013 |
Man's World tells two parallel stories, the one in the present day told by Robert, and the one set in the fifties my Michael. Both gay young men they would appear initially to have little else in common, yet their lives follow a very similar path.

Michael is a conscript serving in the RAF, believes he is probably queer but hides it, he thinks successfully, but some can see straight through his pretence. These include two fellow conscripts, the obviously queer and effeminate Stephen, and the handsome and well built Mervyn who has high aspirations.

Robert has no doubts that he is gay, and lives life to the full clubbing and enjoying recreational drugs along with is best friend, the effeminate Jonathan. He has a relationship with Stuart, but his life is getting out of control and his job is at risk. His workmate Simon is concerned, but Robert has little time for the uncool Simon.

Robert and Michael meet when Robert moves into the flat above Michael, and as the two men tell their own stories in alternate chapters we begin to recognise the many similarities in their lives, including their relationships with their friends and lovers. Both men ultimately find contentment, but for each it will come at a cost.

Robert and Michael are interesting characters, as are their various friends, none is perfect, in fact Robert and Jonathan are initially self centred and obsessed with fashion and appearance. Michael is a more considerate young man, but even he behaves rather badly for the sake of self preservation. Yet over the course of the story we see good points emerging, and cannot but get to like these young men.

My initial impression after the first couple of chapters was that this would be a slight but funny entertainment, but as I got into the account my view changed. It is frequently funny, but it is far from slight, rather it is very perceptive and though provoking, and quite moving. The parallels are sometimes subtle and adapted to fit the difference in the acceptance of gays according to the time period. Eventually Robert and finally Jonathan learn from their older counterparts with positive consequences. ( )
  Bembo | Nov 9, 2011 |
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