Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Leather Boys (1961 book)

I've finished the book, but I don't know how to react to it quite yet. The blurb on the back says: "They're Britain's 'Wild Ones'-the motorcycle cow-boys who live for fast machines and faster girls.
Who ton-up along the Motorways, terrorising drivers and defying the law. Who experience sex too young, marry unthinkingly and live only for the next kick-whatever or wherever it is.
THE LEATHER BOYS is a savage, brilliantly told novel of these aimless young men and women. It is also the story of Dick and Reggie and the strange, twisted love that developed between them."
Hmm, where do I start with that? I know the book was marketed as sleazy pulp fiction, as that's what was selling at the time, but this blurb really angered me; and for a few reasons. Firstly, it alludes that the characters in the story are British versions of characters from The Wild One (a 1953 Marlon Brando film); then it says that these characters ‘terrorise drivers’ on motorways, yet none of that happens in the book; and the story of Dick and Reggie is the main story of the whole book, so I don’t understand why that is given such little precedence. I’m also upset by the description of their love as strange and twisted, but I realise I’m looking back at it from 2010, and attitudes are very different now.
Okay, the writing isn't as bad as I was expecting. I was expecting it to be a lot more sensationalist, sleazier somehow than it was. The writing focused on telling the reader what a particular character was feeling, “Dick was anxious”, “He was happy here. He liked the friends he had made, or at least he liked Reggie. He was looking forward to going out with Reggie tomorrow”, “Reggie felt lonely and depressed. What a mess life was.” Gillian Freeman obviously hadn’t heard ‘show don’t tell’ when she wrote this book. It’s actually a novella, and only 125 pages long; I read most of it in a few hours. The writing is not great, but there are some lovely stylistic quirks, and the speech is brilliant. The character of Gran especially, she is often hilarious; and old lady’s funny little ways are captured beautifully.
I just didn’t believe the characters: they weren’t developed, and weren’t given the time (both time together, and not many pages) to develop. The film is about Reggie and Dot’s life and their marriage failing, and Pete (Dick in the book) coming into Reggie’s life and turning everything upside down. The book is much more about Dick’s life and Reggie coming into it. In both versions, Dick/Pete is obviously gay; in the book he hasn’t yet accepted it, in the film he has. Freeman’s explanation of what makes a gay man, and how to make a gay story acceptable is to have characters not 'realise' they are gay until they find the right man. Up until he meets Reggie, Pete feels no sexual attraction at all; and when they finally kiss and have sex in Gran's house that's the first time he's ever felt like that. It was obviously written by a straight person, and meant for a straight audience.
All that said, I did enjoy it - but I enjoyed the film more than the book.

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