BOOK REVIEW / Who did what when - 'It: Sex Since the Sixties' - Jonathon Green: Secker, 17.99 / 9.99

Linda Grant
Saturday 08 May 1993 23:02

JONATHON GREEN's first book of oral history, Days in the Life, was a detailed history of the British Underground. It gave voice to the forgotten movements of Sixties politics, to radicals who had been overtaken by Thatcherism and obliterated like members of the Bolshevik Central Committee on a retouched photograph. Since its publication in 1988, Days in the Life has become a crucial source book for all historians of the decade.

In his latest oral history, Green attempts to chart the history of sex since the Sixties through a mixture of self- revelation and self-analysis on the part of his interviewees. They range from gay theoretician Jeffrey Weeks and writer Duncan Fallowell to Tuppy Owens, editor of the Sex Maniac's Diary, and the pseudonymous Arthur Banner, a 28-year-old product of the Cambridge comedy factory with an enduring interest in pornography and a cute defence of sex with groupies.

Green's original aim had been to uncover the sexuality of the Nineties, but, as one of his younger interviewees points out, we are still living in the shadow of the Sixties. 'The 20 years that have followed have . . . represented the unravelling and dilution of the forces that emerged pell-mell,' Green writes, unable to detect a pattern. And it isn't only the Sixties that confuse the present picture: the forces unleashed in the Eighties - Aids, safe sex, S/M, post-feminism - are still at work.

Most of those interviewed here, unlike those in Green's previous books, do not use their real names - an indication that the sexual revolution has not liberated people quite as much as all the razzmatazz may have led us to believe. His youngest interviewee, Tracey Minto (or 'Tracey Minto'), is a 16-year-old who was born the year of punk. Losing her virginity at 14 to a 20-year-old she met two days before, she comments: 'He wasn't a good screw and yeah, I would have known if he had been.' In sex, as in everything else, Virtual Reality has overcome us: we no longer need to have had the experience in order to think that what we know is real.

Green's absence from the book, either in terms of personal sexual revelations or through a strong authorial voice, makes it a non-judgemental one. Yet you can still hear in these pages the tone of a man who was once the editor of the hippie paper International Times. For Green, in words that he borrows from Gore Vidal, 'Sex is'.

But if sex is no more than a mystical trip or personal happening, why write about it? Why produce books such as this? Oral history is a great art when out of the individuality of personal experience we detect a common humanity or common purpose. But It, for all the testimony and revelations it offers, is a curiously unresonant book.

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