Full Circle - Mike Seabrook
I really enjoyed this book. It was a little different from most others we’ve reviewed in that it had a plot quite separate from the gay elements—not that it’s disjointed, it’s not, but the gay theme did not drive the plot, the plot drove it.
Set during the Second World War, Brian Hales is a navigator in Bomber Command. He’s also gay, something we find out in flash back as, captured, he is transported across France to a Prisoner of War camp in Germany.
Many of the Prisoner of War themes, which will be familiar to a slightly older, British audience, are covered here: camp hierarchy; lack of food; obsession with escape. However this book is startlingly different than your average Great Escape or Colditz style tale, for Brian, being gay, has an entirely different take on life than the average POW. He’s educated, ambivalent about the war, a pacifist at heart and very, very glad to be taken prisoner and now out of the conflict. However, an abortive escape attempt whilst he was being transported to the camp has given him something of a cult status amongst the other prisoners: someone who has actually done it rather than just talk about it.
Where is the gay theme you ask? Well, it finds its true voice when Hales meet Eugen, a young camp guard. Brought together through a love of music, they find they have something else in common—a growing passion for each other.
This is a delicately realised love story. It is incredibly poignant in that the enemy in this novel is not AIDS (the usual gay nemesis), it’s the whole world gone mad and telling them that they are enemies. (And it’s actually not the “enemy”, the Germans, which prove to be the greatest threat to them).
It’s hard to say whether you would find the sex in the novel graphic (I sometimes wonder whether I’m the best person to judge that these days!). I found it utterly compelling and realistic and definitely preferred to the wallowing in sex which some of the other books we’ve read have done. To stretch an analogy, it’s like the food in the camp—in such short supply that when a titbit occurs, it tastes that bit better and stays in your mind longer.
The net tightens around Hales and Eugen in this incredibly tense story. You are rooting so hard for them that every little triumph against the odds makes your heart soar.
This book would make an excellent film as it has very well rounded characters and a plot that more than holds its own. Well written with a thought-provoking ending, I highly recommend this if you want something a little different from the usual gay-related themes.
Brian Hales is a young RAF bomb-aimer whose war ends when he’s shot down over the Bay of Biscay. His story transported me back to teen-age years reading accounts published after the war by those who’d been fighter pilots or POWs. Any novel set in a German POW camp recalls fondly movies like “Stalag XVII”,“The Great Escape” and TV series “Colditz” and “Hogan’s Heroes”. All of which is a long-winded way of saying I was predisposed to like the novel, and it did not let me down.
The opening section is an exciting, detailed and very realistic account of the bombing mission that resulted in Brian’s plane‘hitting the drink’. A dramatic escape from the wreckage in storm-tossed seas, ends when they’re picked up by an enemy ship and taken to Breton port Le Havre, in occupied France, then put aboard a train headed for captivity inside the Third Reich.
Brian is an engaging chap, self-deprecating and with sardonic humour. By the time he lands in Stalag XLVII we know all about his love life thus far, with flashbacks cleverly placed within the narrative to show us he’s more than ready to find love in probably the last place he’d expect to find it.
Brian is ‘one of them’, a ‘queer’, a ‘poofter’. His first experience was at school with Peter Butterworth, an older boy who exerted what Brian admits was a civilising influence. The friendship left Brian with an abiding weakness for blue-eyed blondes with boyish but manly beauty. You can see where this is leading. The Aryan ideal…German soldiers…
Brian’s lover, Ronnie, went to prison as a conscientious objector rather than serve a war effort he could not accept was either moral or just. Brian disagreed with him, and it precipitated the end of their relationship. Brian found solace in the arms of fighter pilot, Michael Ayres. They had an affair, that’s short on explicit detail but full of passionate intensity. Another airman followed Michael, then Brian went on that final, fateful mission. There’s a delicious interlude where Brian spends 24 hours with a beautiful young Frenchman, Sylvain. It’s very erotic, all the more so because their time is snatched from the serious business of war. It must’ve made men reckless. If you could be dead within hours, you don’t have time to hide your sexual preference; you go for it.
Brian gets friendly with young German guard Eugen when he’s drawn to the soldier’s singing. Fraternisation with the enemy? Brian doesn’t think so. He’s a decent man troubled by civilian casualties from bombing missions. Common soldiers have more cause to shoot those in command over them than each other. Eugen is the love Brian’s been looking for all his life. Sex is a while in coming. Brian is afraid to frighten Eugen off (as happened to him with Peter Butterworth), in case it’s not what he wants. It’s better for the wait.
The enclosed, all-male environment of a POW camp is a perfect setting for a book dealing with personal relationships and the human condition. Brian and Eugen’s touching love story (we shouldn’t forget they’re just 23) is beautifully told. The history informs without intruding and is good on the detail of life as POW. I did feel Brian and Eugen hold humanitarian attitudes and informed opinions somewhat coloured by hindsight. Brian has an awful lot of free time on his hands. He’s classified unfit for work simply because he lost his glasses. Those are minor quibbles.
The story continues with a brief synopsis of what happens to our lovers after the war, bringing us right up into the 90s, with a powerful and entirely unexpected ending.
Publisher: Gay Men's Press. ISBN: 0854492429
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