Is the road to hell paved with centrefolds? Michael Arditti has some doubts; Hope by Glen Duncan, Viking, pounds 9.99
Saturday 02 August 1997
Hope recounts the life and loves of 28-year-old Gabriel Jones, particularly in relation to pornography and sexual violence. He lost his innocence as a child through his friendship with a precocious neighbour, Katherine Holmes, who inducted him in fellatio and drinking urine. Later, when hiding in a wardrobe, he watched her being abused by her father with her mother's connivance.
Duncan intends this trauma to carry considerable psychological as well as symbolic weight, although it is unclear how much responsibility it bears for the failure of Gabriel's relationship with his undergraduate girlfriend, Alicia. It is always a problem in a first-person narrative when a character is seen through the eyes of love, and Alicia is no exception. Gabriel's paean to her perfection becomes off-putting and their love seems faintly puerile (it is no accident that she chooses to see herself as an Enid Blyton character, and he as one from Lord of the Rings).
Alicia is a feminist whose research requires her both to study men's magazines and to interview a stripper. When she discovers Gabriel at a strip-show in The Pig's Head pub, she breaks with him. This is a blow from which he never recovers, and his post-university career is a mess, enlivened only by friendship with Daniel, a would-be novelist, and visits to Hope, a high-class prostitute who is herself deeply disturbed.
It is refreshing to read a first novel that is unashamedly polemical and moral. Its key question is why Gabriel continues to do what he knows to be wrong. The problem is that Duncan's schematic morality allows no room for fictional ambiguity. Just as children find it unfair that the Fall should have been caused by eating one apple, so the reader may feel unconvinced that Gabriel's sexual fall should occur after reading a single magazine.
Even those (such as myself) who hold similar views to Duncan about pornography need them to be more subtly expressed. Gabriel's view of sexuality is simplistic, just as his wish to be cossetted by women (he visits the hairdresser purely to put his head in their hands) is infantile. The author also over- idealises women. As one who has reviewed a performance by the Chippendales, I can assure him that objectification works both ways.
When Duncan writes well, as in his description of childhood summers ("the evenings trailed, gracefully; like the cloaks of benevolent wizards"), he writes very well indeed. Unfortunately, he has endowed his narrator with a boundless taste for repetition. ("I'm still passionate. I still have passion. My response to life is still, by and large, passionate.") Duncan has written a provocative novel about a compelling subject, but it requires an editor's red pencil as urgently as the material he examines requires a censor's blue one.
Broadcaster unveils Christmas scheduleTV
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?
- 4 Halle Berry takes ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry to court for allegedly trying to make daughter look less African-American
- 5 Isis propaganda image showing 'abuse of Muslim woman by soldiers' is actually taken from Hungarian porn film
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict