The Dandelion Clock - Jay Mandal

Ladymol's review:

This story is set in 1980s England, and although there's no particular reason to say that as it's not dated in its content, it dictates the pace of the story, for this is a coming out tale of two men, David and Rob, who meet in the most unlikely of circumstances. David is a well off, urbane, repressed homosexual, still living with his affluent, loving parents. Rob is homeless- a run away who bums David's uneaten sandwich on Waterloo station. In a gesture that is entirely natural, and well described, David offer Rob a roof over his head for the night. From that unlikely beginning, a slow, gentle story of their growing love unfolds.

I began this book with such enthusiasm; the whole tone seemed so respectful, so carefully building up to something that was going to be very special. So, why do I feel cheated? It's not by the ending, which was entirely satisfactory and believable. There's something missing in this book and it didn't strike me what that was until I reached the end. There are the usual plaudits by various well-known people, except, in this case, they all seemed to be from older, established, gay figures. The publisher says of the book: This novel is not designed to strike aggressively at those who are prejudiced against homosexuals: it is a love story of gentle humour and warmth which show that people, in love as well as in life, are all the same.

I read that and it struck me what this book was: an Aga-saga for respectable homosexuals; a comforting look at homosexual life for those on the fringes-mothers, sisters, friends. It's the Joanna Trollop of gay fiction. This book is comfortable. David and Rob are comfortable- so much so that their love-making is so coy, you wonder if uncontrollable lust was permissible in the 1980s. This book makes a wonderful contrast to books such as Metes and Bounds or the Coming Storm, which both deal with relationships of a similar age gap in a totally different way. The nature of adolescent passion is so vividly described in those books; in this one that passion seems repressed under layers and layers of English respectability. I'm being unfair to this book in some ways, because a great deal of the repression that the characters feel is explained in a touching and affecting plot, but I felt stifled by it. I think the publishers are wrong. I don't think we want to read about cosy, domestic homosexuals who mirror the lives of the staid, married heterosexual couples around them. I did enjoy this book and read it quickly. I liked David and Rob. I wanted them to work out; I cared about them.

I'd recommend this book to someone who had never read any other gay fiction and wasn't particularly open-minded about the lifestyle. But if I had a friend who was open-minded and wanted to feel the passion of the life, I'd keep this one under wraps and offer them Metes and Bounds instead.

Gentle, warm, cosy. Nice change, but not what I read fiction for.

Cerisaye's Review:

According to its cover, this book is a love story of gentle humour and warmth which shows that people are all the same. Does it succeed in those terms? I'd have to say yes, it does. In the end, however, for me that simply wasn't enough.

At first I enjoyed the book and its story of what happens when the lives of two men collide. David, 28 year old, is established in a good job and secure. By one of those happy coincidences that alter the course of life forever David misses his train and decides to go for a cup of tea to pass the time. An act of kindness leads him to meet a young man. Rob, ten years younger, is homeless, jobless, alone and frightened, with nowhere to go. Despite their differences they connect, and David in a good Samaritan gesture offers him a bed for the night. Rob agrees to go home with this total stranger, even though David is upfront about the fact he's gay. David still lives in the family home and leads a life of boringly normal domesticity into which Rob slips easily, when that single night stretches into a much longer stay. Quickly they establish a casual intimacy, living together like a couple in every way except the important one: there is nothing physical between them. Not because David doesn't want it, quite the reverse. He is desperate for a relationship, never having known what it is to love. David is more or less in the closet and scared to come out.

Herein lies the source of my frustration with the book that ultimately spoiled it for me. The writing style is simple and the description of David and Rob's daily lives together refreshingly normal, making the point that they're just like us. This charm appears as a strength until its relentlessness began to grate. David in particular got on my nerves. I wanted to give him a good shake and tell him to sit down with Rob and talk properly about the assumptions and expectations hampering their friendship developing into the two-sided relationship he wants. I liked David and wanted him and Rob to fall in love and live together happily ever after. David is almost unbelievably na´ve when it comes to sex, and the romance element proceeds at a snail's pace.. There are undercurrents running below the apparently tranquil surface of the book, and I have no quibble with the way Mandal handles this. It adds depth and explains a lot of the difficulties I had with Rob. Likewise the ending was everything I'd hoped. It just seems lacking something to lift its ordinariness into an emotionally satisfying story of gay love.

Who is it aimed at? Anyone who reads a lot of gay fiction would find it frustrating and annoyingly coy. For mums and dads and families of the newly out perhaps, to reassure them it's not all sex. David is repressed and Rob is reluctant to commit. There's desire between them but you'd be hard put to find it in the story. Maybe that's it. It needs that spark to put a fire in your belly and turn an ordinary tale into something memorable.

I enjoyed it while reading the book but I doubt it'll linger, unlike some of the others I have reviewed here.





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