Uninvited - Richard House
What an odd novel. Iím not sure Iíd even class it as a gay novel. Set in a contemporary, working class London of squats and bailiffs, the book charts a few days in the life of Ian Proctor, a gay man who drifts aimlessly through life until he gets caught up in a major crime. To be honest, I canít say I particularly enjoyed the book, although it was very well written in a bleak sort of way. Itís clever and different, it just didnít appeal to me. It seemed to be trying too hard to mirror the nihilistic lives of those living in squats and hanging around on the fringes of the criminal gangs with its bleak style and flat ending. Shouldnít books stir some emotion or stick in the mind? I read this one last week, and Iím having trouble remembering it now. In some ways, Iíd say that this book is typically British, in the way that many of the films weíve reviewed have been. In other words, bleak, depressing and often very violent.
Nothing much happens in this rather odd novel yet rather to my surprise I enjoyed it, despite grim subject matter and permeating air of hopeless frustration.† Can you guess itís English already?† The usual depressing realism, unassuming character tiptoeing his way through a circumscribed life of low expectations and the ever-pressing threat that bad though everything is itís only going to get worse.†
Thereís a tentative romance that takes forever to get anywhere then disaster strikes.† The ending is unresolved though leaves you to imagine a happier outcome if youíre so inclined.
Ian Proctor is 26 and has been in London for 9 months, following childhood friend Gordon to the bright lights in the hopes his dreams might come true.† Of course itís easier to move geographically than change habits of a lifetime, personality traits and weaknesses, and Ianís milieu is more underclass than socially mobile, pretty bleak and miserable.
Gradually we find out what Ianís story is.† A teller of lies to avoid unpleasant truths with a compulsive habit of counting under stress, heís gay but shies away from physical contact.† We see him interact with a doctor he allows to pick him up in a bar because he looks like someone else, but the encounter ends in failure when Ian bottles it and scuttles back to lonely longing.† He has a dead-end job he hates and no money to escape somewhere exotic as heíd like.† Living in a squat he tries to make homely, the precariousness of his situation is brought home when without warning theyíre evicted and heís forced to stay with Gordon.†
Gordon is a rent collector, colleague of Terry, another resident of the squat together with brother Malc.† When Malc has an accident that lands him in hospital, a trail of criminal violence exposes a more sinister aspect to life on the margins.† A sense of impending doom gathers force as Ian, with natural curiosity, begins to put pieces together after he finds a mysterious list of names and is interviewed by the police.
He quits his job, but another chance encounter with friendly bike courier Peter leads to a new position, despite the handicap of a damaged arm (that indicates a deeper malaise perhaps).† This is the result of a long-ago incident we discover the truth of only toward the end of the book, when Ianís tentative relationship with Peter finally becomes intimate.† This is sweet and tender, also amazingly sexy though not explicit.† Ian is, despite his oddities, a nice guy and Peter kind and considerate.† It looks like theyíre made for each other.† However the lurking danger that has dogged Ian since Malcís accident at the squat explodes in a burst of violence that puts all into question.
Another of those books thatís not a gay novel rather a story in which some characters are gay but thatís not whatís important about them.† Thereís also the male friendship between Ian and Gordon, who has always protected him.† Thereís sexual tension between them which adds intrigue to the relationship. Ian has never told his best mate heís gay: he has deep-seated reasons to find it hard to trust anyone for fear theyíll abandon him.††
Ian is not the most likely character to love but somehow wormed into my affections, with his introspective nature and observant eye. †A simply written but readable book, surprisingly good on descriptive detail- like the irony of the squat being called Hopewell House.†† A change of pace from our usual fare but thatís not a bad thing.† Iíd like to read Houseís earlier novel now.