Out Of Bounds - Mike Seabrook
By the author of Full Circle, this book came with much expectation, and in many ways it doesnít fail.
Steven, a seventeen-year-old boy joins the local cricket club on the recommendation of his favourite master, Graham. The two begin a passionate and very loving affair, illegal of course, because at the time the book was written, the homosexual age of consent in this country was 21, and immoral because Graham is Stevenís teacher.
The book handles these issues very sensitively. Thereís no doubt where the authorís sympathies lie, however. Graham is so good for Steve, above and beyond the intensely loving relationship, that you canít but agree with him. Graham is his protector, his confidant, his guide and mentor.
However, the net tightens around them, and Graham makes the heartbreaking decision that they must stop seeing each other until Steven has taken his A levels and is no longer one of Grahamís pupils.
Steven finds solace in the arms of a fellow pupil, Richard, while Graham suffers alone, but not for one moment does their love or commitment to each other waver.
So, a great story, which gave a lot. Why am I so flat about this book then? Firstly, although the book is full of sex, itís all of the ďlater they made loveĒ kind. Although Iíve said many times that I donít need graphic sex to love a book (see my reaction to the Dakota series), you need a bit more convincing than that. When you do get some sex, it just isnítÖ sexy, and that rather leaves the whole premise of the book a bit flat.†
I think my second major problem with this book is the characterisation. I didnít find Steven or Richard (the boy he turns to after Graham) convincing. They have incredibly long conversations with very grown up attitudes that just donít ring true to me. On top of this, the adults come over rather stereotypically as well. The chaps at the cricket club are almost plot devices, one, who initially stirs up trouble about Graham and Steve suddenly turning into a buffoon under a bit of questioning. Thereís a sinister man they meet in the pub, who is there just when they want to intimidate someone. The worst examples are Stevenís parents. Iím not sure what personal issues the author was working out with his depiction of Stevenís relationship with his father, but it rang utterly hollow to me. Stevenís final reaction to his fatherís actions is so not that of a seventeen year old that it is all rather silly.
†It seemed clumsy writing to me.
I think the main reason this left me flat is that the book is uneven. It starts with the intensity of Steve and Graham. Then itís Steve and Graham against all odds: the separation, the desperate longing. Then itís Steve. It has no sense of completeness for me, and thatís why I felt rather flat at the end.† However, there is a sequel, which picks up where this one left off, and I will get it.
So, Iíve probably made it sound far worse than it is. Itís a good read, which covers some very interesting issues head on. Itís a theme weíve seen in many of our books now: sex with very willing, very persuasive underage boys. Whatever you think about such relationships, you canít help but be thrown slightly when you now realise that this whole issue has gone with the lowering of the age of consent. It just goes to show that there are no absolutes in life. So, recommended, despite the flaws!
If youíre disturbed by underage sex and a full relationship between a teacher nudging 30 and his 17 year old pupil stop here. I donít want any flack because youíre well warned.
I enjoy stories celebrating adolescent sexuality as part of awakening to love and romance. Chris Kent captures this perfectly in The Real Tom Brownís Schooldays. Thereís a youthful innocence thatís irresistibly charming.† What happens when you add adult desire to the mix?† Boy-on-boy fun & frolics are more easily tolerated than a scenario increasingly demonised in our society:† the predatory gay male seduces and corrupts innocent youth.† Weíre bombarded with press exposťs and lurid tabloid headlines.† Paedophiles are hunted down and punished with vehemence akin to witch trials in days gone by. Men commit suicide rather than endure trial by media.†
Given this climate of intolerance, fear and misunderstanding, what about a novel that features forbidden love and illicit sex?† Make it gay love and man-on-boy sex then itís really pushed beyond the pale.† Most mainstream readers wouldnít countenance such a book, and certainly wouldnít expect emotional engagement.† Yet weíve all had crushes on teachers.† For most itís unrequited passion.† What if it isnít?
Graham Curtis teaches French at a small English public school.† He forms a bond with Stephen Hill, over a shared love of cricket and something intangible that draws them together.† Itís more than a teacher-pupil relationship.† Graham knows he transgresses professional boundaries, but his attitude is coloured by his own experience.† At 19 he lost his virginity to a much older man.† Reggie, now 71, was a gently considerate lover, who has been over the years friend and counsellor offering unconditional love together with wisdom and advice.† Itís an ideal relationship. I think itís far better to learn about sex from someone who knows what theyíre doing, and makes it a good experience.
Graham isnít a paedophile.† Yes heís attracted to adolescent boys.† Most gay teachers are, itís why they are so good at the job.† But heís no more likely to pounce on a boy than a straight teacher seduce a young girl.† Itís the old double standard at work. As with The Coming Storm, itís youth whoís the aggressor.† Stephen knows what heís doing.† Heís totally in control.† Graham sublimates his desire in hard work and cricket, but Stephen wants him and is clever enough to get what he wants.† This intelligence attracts Graham as much as nubile youth.† Itís beautiful, intense and never exploitative.
Seabrook crafts a story that highlights uncomfortable truths surrounding forbidden love.† It isnít easy for them, but itís realistic.† An old lover of Grahamís, Andrew Tyndesley, tries to cause trouble, bitter and twisted from rejection.† Stephenís parents are religious and view homosexuality as a mortal sin punished by Hellfire.† Graham faces losing his job and probable imprisonment.† Stephen is a minor. The age of consent for gay sex at the time of this story was 21 (16 for hetero).† In the UK this was equalised at 16 by the new Labour government after 1997 but thereís always upward pressure from the moral right. Escape to liberal France is the obvious solution for Graham and Stephen, but they ought, as consenting adults, to be free to live and love in their own country.† Laws governing sexuality arise from cultural prejudices that vary around the world.† Itís silly that a man can freely sleep with a 15year old boy in one country yet cross a border and be sent to prison.
One quibble is frustration with lack of detail when it comes to sex. Weíre frequently told they have great sex but weíre never shown.† Still thereís quite an erotic charge running through.† Another thing that bothered me was although set in the 90s the dialogue belongs to an earlier period, especially the boys. Graham as a character is slightly underwritten.† This becomes a problem when Stephen gets friendly with Richard, a colourful and charismatic individual he uses to occupy his time and energy during enforced separation from Graham.† He must choose, and itís down to the wire which way heíll go.
The writer clearly loves and knows a lot about cricket.† I skimmed boring bits but itís essential to the story.† Cricket allows Graham and Stephen to be together, and team members show tolerance despite their deception.† Graham isnít officially out.† A teacher must be careful, given parental prejudice.† As he learns to his cost.
This is a mature love fully explored, as two lovers struggle against the system.† Seabrook shows how silly yet dangerously destructive it is.† Treated as criminals, Graham and Stephen are forced to desperate measures. I donít see anything wrong with their relationship. How can you punish two people for being in love?† Any civilised society would protect them from the consequences of hate, not force them apart.† Society views gay relationships with prejudice, for sex not love.† Mature gay men are assumed to exploit young boys to satisfy perverted desires.† This novel quietly demonstrates that well meaning parents and authority figures can do just as much damage to boys in their care as the bogeymen they seek to protect them from.† Pity it likely preaches to the converted.† Definitely recommended.
Published by Gay Men's Press. ISBN: 0854491775
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