In The Nick of Time - Francis King
First off, this isnít a gay book. It is a good read though and there are some gay elements which is why I guess itís on many gay lists. The novel is something of a puzzle. The main character Mehmet is only seen through the eyes of other people. We never get inside his head or have his direct point of view given to us. Itís an interesting plot device, but it has to be done in such a way that you can assemble the individual pieces of the puzzle to make a whole and Iím not sure I can with Mehmet. Beautiful, enigmatic Mehmet.
Mehmet is beautiful. He turns heads and hearts. Heís a charmer. Heís an illegal immigrant. Heís a lover of men and women. Heís a thief. Heís a murderer. Heís a kind, caring man. Perhaps heís none of these things. Meg, his landlady, sees only the best of Mehmet. Miriam, his lover canít see him clearly at all so besotted is she. Audrey, jealous of Miriamís love, hates him. Adrian sees the perfect man, come to save him from a lonely, loveless old age.
I think Iím puzzled by this novel because the contradictions are too extreme. A lot of it didnít make sense to me: one minute Mehmet seeing to be a conniving schemer and thief, the next a generous kind-hearted man. Heís certainly a desperate man. He is a man whose life is closing in around him. The story is a frightening expose of life as an illegal immigrant. He canít work legally and when he turns to prostitution (if that is what he does; as I say, it depends on your point of view) you can hardly blame him.
What does intrigue me is the idea that perhaps Mehmet isnít just seen through the eyes of different people, he actually becomes a different person with different people.
This is definitely worth reading and would make an excellent book for a reading club. The central characters are women, who have these extreme reactions to Mehmet. There is just enough gay theme to spice up the average reading club that doesnít usually consider gay novels, but not enough to offend even the most delicate senses. Intriguing. Iím not sure Iíd like Mehmet if I met him. Iíd have that odd feeling that I might see him more clearly if I looked just off to one sideÖ.
Well, though interesting enough and well written, this is not the book I expected.† It has one gay main character but the major relationship in the story is straight, and another more like mother and son.† The blurb misleads with mention of Ďthrowing himself onto the London gay sceneí, while the Ďrelationship with a gay protectorí reference forms a small part, about two thirds in, and is strictly a business transaction- though you could say that about the het pairings too.† But the gay man though unsympathetic is depicted with pathos so I believed the attraction that feeds his obsession, though the relationship is unsuitable and unlikely.† Heís wealthy and ageing, unable to form genuine attachments because he has no idea what love is.† Whereas the straight romance stretched my credulity.
It is a very depressing novel, with a downbeat ending that reflects reality but doesnít give much satisfaction.† Itís as though a window is opened onto peopleís lives allowing us to stand by as casual observers without ever being allowed to become too attached to any as the scene keeps switching between them.†
The one we most want to understand is seen only through the eyes of the others, who each have their own narrow interest in him.† Very frustrating.† Like the characters in the novel I felt teased and annoyed that this mysterious man remained always desirable but ever elusive and unknowable.† At the end of the novel that window simply slams shut, the curtains drawn and our privileged access ends.†
Maybe if I hadnít been preoccupied waiting for the advertised gay content I mightíve enjoyed the novel more, yet still it all seems rather pointlessÖor maybe aimless is a more appropriate description, unless I just didnít get it.†
The book asks the question Do people have a right to be happy?† The answer seems to be no, not if they persist in looking for it with the wrong people.† Though they can fool themselves if it has the appearance of what theyíre looking for, even if the object of adoration gives practically nothing in return, substituting contentment for true happiness.
Mehmet the central character is an Albanian living illegally in London, a liar and skilled emotional manipulator who will do anything to anyone in order to stay, using everyone he meets to this end.† Heís a convincing liar with easy charm and devastating good looks so his victims lose all common sense.† The one apparently genuine relationship he has, with Meg, a middle-aged lady suffering from MS, hints at the man beneath the calculated exploiter of the weak and vulnerable (i.e. those so desperate for love & affection theyíll put up with emotional distance, the lack of real intimacy, in exchange for good sex). Mehmet brings a spark of life to the lost and lonely.† He talks about himself in the 3rd person, detached even from his own life.† When thwarted he is sinister, even dangerous.† More than anything I wanted Mehmetís backstory, some explanation for why he is the way he is.
King effectively portrays the devastating impact of time, those painful Ďnicksí (little cuts) progressively wearing down his characters, each trapped by their circumstances and experiences as though confined in prison (AKA Ďthe nickí).† Thereís an entertaining array of characters, Mehmetís conquests who adore him and their friends/relations whose jealousy turns to hate when excluded by the interloper. One to get from a library rather than to buy, and donít expect much gay content.