Wednesday, 26 October 2016

DAVID GEE "event"!

I'm doing readings from THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS and SHAIKH-DOWN, my gay 'Arab Spring' novel, for Brighton GEMS this  Friday. GEMS is a group for gays 'of a certain age' (old enough to go on a Saga holiday!).

In the canteen of Dorset Gardens Methodist Church in Brighton:  1900-2100 Friday 28 October.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Wot I'm reading: 60-year old gay novel still shocks

Fritz Peters: FINISTERE

Another episode in my trawl through the gay ‘classics’.  Finistère was first published in 1951, three years after Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar. In many ways it’s a more daring novel. Matthew, our young hero, moves to France – the year is 1927 – with his mother following her divorce.  At boarding school he begins a relationship, more sexual than romantic (though nothing too explicit), with a fellow pupil. Then, aged fifteen, he falls in love with Michel, a thirty-something PE teacher. Their intense affair is explored from both viewpoints – and also from the viewpoint of the mother and stepfather. When Matthew’s stepmother enters the story, she and the stepfather begin the process of ‘outing’ Matthew and precipitate a terrible climax. Happy endings seem to have been ruled out in these early gay novels, although in all fiction a tragic finale tends to have more resonance.

The implicit element of pederasty – a slightly lesser ‘sin’ (or crime) than paedophilia – is largely overlooked by the author. He presents the relationship between the teenager and his teacher as if it’s entirely natural (which it is, obviously) and even normal, which it very clearly is not. This must have been a ‘shocking’ story in the 1950s. It’s fairly shocking today.

The writing is sometimes a bit precious, a bit ‘twee’. Perhaps because of the French setting there’s a Proustian attention to details of setting and moments of introspection. Rapid switches of viewpoint, much frowned on by writing schools, are always disconcerting for the reader. And of course it’s a bit dated, but the struggles of a teenager with his sexual identity are as relevant now as they were sixty years ago, and Matthew’s difficulties in coming to terms with divorce and step-parents are powerfully conveyed. Overall this is an elegant read and a story that engages the reader’s emotions.

Even in these liberal times of ours there are many places (not all of them in Muslim countries) where homosexuals face intolerance and often persecution. In the ultra-liberal West we face a growing threat from the forces of ultra-conservatism. We need to keep our guard up.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

David at the movies: Dante but not dandy!


This is the weakest of Dan Brown’s four books featuring 'symbologist' Robert Langdon and it certainly makes for the most mediocre of the (three, so far) movies. The Da Vinci Code was clever but a bit too earnest in its tone. Angels and Demons was over-the-top but enjoyably daft. Inferno is just a big muddle, unintelligible and occasionally inaudible to boot. Like most of the recent James Bond movies and the latest Jason Bourne adventure, it recycles plot elements and has a distinctly underweight villain.

Professor Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital with amnesia and a very attentive doctor (Felicity Jones) who rescues him from an attempted assassination. As the pair go on the run through some of the city’s landmarks, Langdon’s memory starts to come back and we learn that he is meant to be thwarting a plan to unleash a plague that will reduce the world’s population by fifty per cent. As well as the villain's hitmen, the World Health Organisation is in pursuit him, led by an old flame of his (Sidse Knudsen, whom many of us remember as the Danish Prime Minister on TV). We are meant to be confused as to – excuse the pun – WHO is the bad guy here. The big 'reveal' halfway through is the point where the whole story becomes ludicrous. Cranking up the pace for the climax beneath the streets of Istanbul does not rescue the movie from chaos.

Tom Hanks looks as if he’d rather be in any movie but this one; his is not the only performance with an air of embarrassment. The plague scenario has already driven too many movies; it was perhaps best used in 007’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Da Vinci references in Langdon’s first screen outing just about made sense; the Dante visions of Hell-on-Earth that pepper Inferno seem contrived and clunky. The usually dependable director (and Oscar-winner) Ron Howard has messed up here, big-time. Nice to be taken on a tour of Florence, though!


Like this summer's Tarzan, here's another remake that is apt to make some viewers (me, for instance) ask: Why? There's plenty that's good about it, especially the lighting and cinematography, but the screenplay springs no surprises and neither do the performances.

The story is the same old same old. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt (hunky), Ethan Hawke (looking a bit weather-beaten) and four other gunslingers help the folk of a mining community in California confront the robber baron (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants to drive them out of town. I seem to have missed a vital point: why wouldn't he want the town to supply and support the miners? Anyway, Denzel and Co are recruited to turn the townspeople into an army that can outwit and outgun the nasty Bartholomew Bogue (I wanted his name to be pronounced 'bogie' or 'boogey'!). 

None of the gunmen is given much in the way of a back story: they all appear to be mercenaries, so the movie lacks a moral tone beyond the basic Good (town) versus Evil (mine-owner). The impending battle drives the narrative, which inevitably drags until we get to the shoot-out. This is extremely well done, relying on stunts and acrobatics rather than on CGI, always welcome from my viewpoint. Sarsgaard's Bogue is a lacklustre villain, like Christoph Waltz's recent take on Blofeld, and Denzel W, usually a very charismatic presence, doesn't invest too much in his role. 'Oomph' is conspicuously absent.

Not, then, a ground-breaking new Western like Unforgiven. More a retread than a remake.


This is only Bridget's third appearance on the big screen but already she and her chums - all back except Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) - have the pleasing familiarity of the Carry On cast from an earlier era. The story begins, shockingly, at Daniel's funeral where Bridget has an embarrassing encounter with her Lost Great Love, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), now married to somebody else. To get over her grief Bridget goes to the Glastonbury music fest where she falls in the mud and is rescued by dating-site billionaire Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the New Stud On The Block. Unfortunately only days after bestowing her favours on Jack (who wouldn't on still hunky Mr Dempsey?) Bridget also bestows them on old flame Mark. So when she finds out she's pregnant, she doesn't know who the father is; the plot, heavily recycled, requires her to be scared of allowing the foetus to be DNA-tested.

The rest of the movie goes down familiar rom-com territory as the two men compete to be The Man and Bridget's career in a TV newsroom goes, like her, pear-shaped. It's all extremely predictable but again, as with the Carry-Ons, familiarity doesn't have to breed contempt and the sheer pace of this frantic comedy helps make it seem fresher and more fragrant than it actually is; there are several gags which seem not so much borrowed as stolen. The ending manages to deliver a small surprise which allows us to look forward to Bridget IV.

Renee Zellweger slips effortlessly back into the role of Bridget, perilously poised between very annoying and rather endearing. Emma Thompson and Patrick Dempsey are welcome additions to the cast. There's a great soundtrack and a pleasing cameo from Ed Sheeran. This has better performances and a better script than the big screen version of Absolutely Fabulous - and is a lot more fun.


Movies don't come much weirder than this! Paul Dano plays Hank, marooned on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe. His Man Friday is Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a washed-up corpse whose spectacular flatulence propels Hank into an amazing odyssey. Despite being dead Manny has other gifts – for starters, he can talk - and he’s a great listener. An unlikely friendship bonds the two of them together as they trek and scavenge their way back to civilization. Hank has a major crush on a girl he’s seen on his daily commute and she has a role to play in their bizarre adventure.

As ‘bromances’ go, this is at the far extreme of bizarre. Monty Python meets American Pie, with too many fart and ‘stiffie’ gags. Paul Dano’s Hank is the apotheosis of nerdiness (I thought him horribly miscast in the recent TV version of War and Peace), but here he manages to become sympathetic to the viewer as well as to Manny. Daniel Radcliffe has charm and a fair degree of charisma, even when playing a flatulent corpse; it’s safe to say he has laid Harry Potter to rest.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Wot I'm reading: San Francisco gothic


This stylish new thriller comes with rave cover reviews from Stephen King and Lee Child - praise indeed! Mr King compares it to Red Dragon, although I was more reminded of Hannibal, the most gothic of Thomas Harris's Lecter quartet. 

San Francisco toxicologist Caleb Maddox has just had a bruising break-up with his girlfriend when he meets a glamorous 'lady in red' in a late-nite bar. Emmeline is from another era, beautiful but damaged, with an edge of mystery and danger about her.  Caleb is himself damaged by an episode in his past that continues to haunt him. Called in to examine the bodies of men fished out of the bay, he finds evidence of poison and hideous torture. There's gruesome stuff here: one victim's body has turned to soap in the water ('saponification' - look it up). 

At times I wasn't sure if this was meant to be a medical/psychological horror story or an erotic thriller. A long scene in a period mansion lit by candles and a hurricane lamp is quasi-Victorian, with some highly-charged sex.  Jonathan Moore's writing is accomplished and often vividly original. The mansion has a secret room with "the heavy scent of dust and dead memories." For me the metaphysical denouement was hard to swallow, shifting the tone from Victorian gothic to Hollywood gothic (Brian De Palma territory), but this is a stand-out read, dark and deeply disturbing.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Wot I'm reading: Artistic tantrums

Brian Sewell: OUTSIDER

In the first chapter of this memoir (2011) Brian Sewell reveals that, seeing Aladdin as a teenager gave him 'an undying ambition, never fulfilled, to play the Widow Twanky.' With his highly affected speech Brian’s Twanky would surely have sounded like Edith Evans’s Lady Bracknell. When you read Alan Bennett’s diaries it’s easy to hear his Yorkshire vowels in your head. Mr Sewell similarly writes as he speaks: a plummy, precious, over-elaborate prose. In the early chapters of his memoir he describes his early life – mother, father, stepfather, schoolfriends – with the same clinical brutality with which he will later appraise artists and their work.

One of his tutors as a student of art history at the Courtauld Institute was Anthony Blunt, the ‘Fourth Man’ in the Cambridge Spy Ring. You feel his passion, inspired by Blunt, for Poussin above all other painters. Paint, rather than blood, runs in Sewell’s veins: he recalls in vivid detail the paintings he saw on a Grand Tour of Italy with five fellow students in an old Vauxhall in the 1950s. The detail of his studies – in these long Victorian paragraphs – and his subsequent career as a cataloguer and appraiser with Christie’s becomes wearisome after a time.

Arguments over attribution are only a little bit exciting, although Alan Bennett gave them an extra ‘frisson’ in his play about Blunt, set mostly in the Queen’s art gallery. Outsider offers a few moments of high drama in the auction rooms. In the 50s and 60s many great paintings and drawings sold for a fraction of what they are worth today. His rarefied view of art – and of his own importance – seem designed to make the rest of us (‘outsiders’!) feel like philistines; I certainly did.

Having been both Catholic and Anglican, Sewell is content to call himself an ‘an agnostic Christian,’ a label I relished and am tempted to borrow. After years in the bosom of Christianity – he flirted with the attractions of the priesthood – Brian surrendered to the temptations of the flesh. A period of gay promiscuity and occasional love affairs ensued, but he describes his lovers with less intensity than he gives to a Burne-Jones painting needing emergency repairs before its sale at Christie’s. At the end he offers a bizarre apology for having used ‘bugger’ rather than the F-word throughout his book. I would have preferred an apology for his Dickensian syntax.

Sir Anthony Blunt: tutor and traitor
He is generous with praise for the people in the art world he liked and equally generous with disdain for those he didn’t: a lot of old scores are settled in this cavalcade of tantrums, which often reminded me of Kenneth Williams’s acid-queen diaries. This is a mean-spirited autobiography, only enlivened by the occasional titbit of gossip and revelation. When Anthony Blunt is unmasked as a spy, a traitor, Sewell refers to this in passing with no suggestion that he shared the Establishment’s sense of betrayal. Presumably he goes into the scandal in more detail in the second volume of his memoirs, which I will steel myself to read sometime in the not-too-near future.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Wot I'm reading: The second murder of Princess Diana


The latest instalment in the Gabriel Allon super-spy series begins with the blowing up of a yacht in the Mediterranean where the principal guest is the ex-wife of the heir to the British throne. It’s very cavalier of Daniel Silva to rescue Princess Diana (she is only ever called the ‘former princess’) from the horror of Paris only to have her murdered somewhere else.

Improbably, veteran Israeli intelligence operative Gabriel is brought in to investigate the killing, and he recruits Christopher Keller (whom we have met before), a British commando turned hitman. The prime suspect is ex-IRA bomb-maker Eamon Quinn, whose path has also crossed Gabriel’s more than once. Quinn is linked to the decades-old atrocity that destroyed Gabriel’s first wife and young son, a tragedy that Daniel Silva revisits in every novel, with powerful resonance. Keller and Gabriel criss-cross Europe in pursuit of the assassin and his sponsors. The climax, in the old ‘killing fields’ of Ireland, is thrilling and chilling.

The head of MI5 quotes Eric Ambler: “It’s not important who fires the shot. It’s who pays for the bullet.” And there are several old foes who may behind this new conspiracy - Russians, Iranians, Arabs – or perhaps a lethal combination of dark forces. The sheer scale of the conspiracy here, with all its twists and turns, reminded me (which Silva often does) of Robert Ludlum, whose great gift (the Jason Bourne stories are a good example: I wonder why they haven’t filmed the Allon novels?) was to make a preposterous conspiracy seem entirely plausible. The English Spy is one of this author’s more outlandish tales - and I think the murder of the princess shows bad taste: he fictionalizes the UK prime minister and could easily have fictionalized a minor Royal. Nevertheless, he always convinces you that a drama like this could well be played out on the streets of Europe’s cities – and, as we have seen too often recently, frightening dramas are playing out on the streets where we live.

Mr Silva never fails to deliver the goods. In an Afterword at the end of the book he delivers an alarm-bell-ringing assessment of how much he thinks President Putin threatens world security.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Wot I'm reading: The ghost of Herman Melville

This literary adventure story was published in 2001 but only came to my attention this year, recommended by a friend with reliable good taste. 

Two narratives are interwoven in Henderson’s Spear, told in different styles, both vividly fresh and exciting. The modern one has Olivia, a rootless young woman imprisoned in Tahiti on a murder charge, writing her life story in the form of a letter to the daughter she gave up for adoption. The ‘period’ story, 100 years earlier, is the journal of a relative of Olivia’s, Frank Henderson, who sailed the South Seas with a crew that included Princes George and Edward, Queen Victoria’s grandsons, one destined to die young, the other to marry his brother’s fiancée and be crowned in Westminster Abbey.

The Victorian/Edwardian history is very much in the style of Herman Melville who also explored – and wrote about – Polynesia. There are storms at sea and other maritime perils and wonderfully weird encounters with the newly Christianized rulers of Fiji and Tahiti. Prince Eddy’s homosexuality is not over-emphasized, although this tale has a ‘shock’ ending. Olivia’s life is a catalogue of doomed affairs: ‘I’ve never been very good at love,’ she writes to her daughter, ‘though I am working on it.’ Her ill-fated trip to Tahiti, also driven by letters, is a quest to find out what happened to her father, a pilot who failed to return from the Korean War. Abandonment is a core theme in this novel, explored with depth and poignancy.

Henderson’s Spear is in the same league as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Kite Runner – novels that are impossible to categorize and a joy to read.