No one to have sex with in Iceland

USES AND ABUSES: Journeys, Sleepwalkings and Fool's Errands by Aldo Busi trs Stuart Hood, Faber pounds 20
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The Independent Culture
THOSE who have read Aldo Busi's previous books, and those who care to recall the publicity surrounding his arrest for cottaging in London, will read much in Uses and Abuses they are already familiar with. The unstable nature of personal and cultural identity, the related need to travel, and the further related insatiable thirst for bodily fluids are, once again, the overriding themes.

For Busi, the act of writing is a means of allowing the author to get to know, and eventually become, himself. Everything grows out of this assumption. In his first (and best) novel Seminar on Youth, he explained that: "To become 'me' first of all means being exiled, to act so that they chase you from the city, to provoke a confrontation, a challenge to the social contract." His books collectively record the move towards such social ostracism, and the revelation of the arbitrary nature of social and sexual conventions that results. So in Uses and Abuses, Busi states defiantly that "I still haven't arrived at anything other than my nature," and this is a wonderfully self- congratulatory note.

Busi's last book, Sodomies in Eleven Point, traced his travels through Morocco, Finland, Kenya, Tunisia and Czechoslovakia. Uses and Abuses is a companion volume, taking in Busi's idiosyncratic reflections on various South American, North African and European capital cities. There is one major, comic reversal apparent from the opening pages: there will be almost no sex in the latest book. It isn't, of course, that sex has disappeared as a concern. It's just that there isn't anybody suitable - or even unsuitable - available. Busi has rarely been funnier or more scathing than when he reports, for example, from Iceland, his first destination: the idea of him being there is enough to reduce one to titters, and he reports with utter dis- belief the "total absence of any gesture or attitude that speaks of prostitution".

This lack of sexual outlet superficially characterises Uses and Abuses and leads to a sort of melancholic reflectiveness. In the resulting retrospective, emotional passages Busi produces some of his most moving, sincere prose yet. The subject is almost always his own childhood and the childish, crippling qualities of innocence and sweetness of the impoverished children he meets on the street and in the ghettos.

The sexual and emotional intensity of Busi's own early years - that great gay theme of adolescent excess and duress - is offset against the inhuman poverty, and heartbreaking hopelessness of, for instance, a slum family befriended in Rio de Janeiro: "I and the child are laughing, forgetful, each mad about the other ... the father pulls up his little vest to show me that he is a little boy, and he was all sweating and had a scab on his navel ... and I cry easily, I stroke his little feet underneath, a slight tickling, and he laughs and laughs and waves his arms and legs and I let go of the little curtain and begin to run without turning round."

There are many such moments when Busi is challenged out of his solipsistic pose. They reveal more about the author - and the world - than a thousand sex scenes could, and this is one reason why Uses and Abuses is a more satisfying read than Sodomies in Eleven Point.

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