|Swapping a Marlboro for a Gauloise and still being on the right side of thirty.
Nancy Boy For a Year Only Chris Rose.
This book was a fortuitous third work I picked up in which autobiography came out diaphanously clothed as fiction. Now I am all for hybrids, and as any evolutionist knows they are the most likely to produce not only viable offspring, but the Great Leaps Forward, hopefully with fewer casualties than the Long Marches. This is far from a long march since most of it is spent smoking on a particular bench in Nancy or recumbent (dorsal exhaling, or ventral with a variety of female companions. Where the earlier work Wood Talc and Mr J was a reluctant coming of age for Phillip Rowlings( one hand on his collar, one foot off the ground) this was a kind or repentance for the un-wisdom of coming of age, getting married, fathering a boy. The sort of things most of us do in error and no sooner achieved repented of, escaped from, and dubiously revisited just to check that one was now on the path of deliverance from immaturity. One suspects pimples do still erupt and loans are still necessary. Mastering fluent French is a seemingly laudable cover for this great escape (and has, no doubt, kept the Author in fags ever since, if not the admiration of the beret wearers that resemble Cilla Black or Juiliette Greco, quite apart from the cachet in Sheffield- advantages all round.)
Meanwhile the perfume of Gauloises, and the tactics to avoid the French cadgers of a Marlboro,( whose stratagems are well honed) the visits to special Gay bars, ( Is Guy Gay? Does it matter? It does and for very good reasons) and the fragmentary exchanges with the female of the species, the exploratory species, has Nancy as a backdrop. The sun rises and sets, the shopkeepers put out their boxes, in La Place Stanislas and pull up their blinds, but essentially this is the exploration by the character, Philip, of the character Philip, now sharply silhouetted by simply being in France, and finding heady liberty. There are intermittent brief nods in the directions of Emmaline, Virginie, Anne, Celine………. but I confess I found it difficult to distinguish between them, perhaps because Philip didn’t seem to much either? I might have missed distinctions through the smoke.
So plot? Not in the usual sense. For my taste that is a plus. The metaphors are not quite as startlingly original as the first book but then, given the subject under surveillance, that is apropos. One cannot find startling novelty in the contemplation of the all too familiar umbilicus. His shirt-tails ( all the way from Next) still pin the Brit for all the ‘santés and Bières blondes because he is enjoying being away so much, (stabbed by occasional homesickness) one enjoys being on a sabbatical too. This is the bottled perfume of early adult uncertainty, wafted in gusts, like those that spill out of ventilators at the back of restaurants into alleys where not many venture. Food admixed with cooking oil, heat and burnt onions, vivid but indefinable.
It is, as the first was, a wholly personal and original work, that conveys atmosphere and state of mind as inextricable. I admire greatly such access to memory that draws out fresh fish as though caught for the first time; the ability to re-live being ?circa twenty five with all the seeming bombast and the quivering apprehension that bombast covers. Philip remains wholly likeable. One may not ‘approve’ of him ( he takes life both as it comes and pretty easily, but underneath questions almost everything) and that he neither cares about nor modifies to achieve. He is what he is, though still growing. Go to Nancy. You’ll achieve a smattering of colloquial phrases, and remember being new and uncertain, and wanting to stay that way for fearing the narrowing tunnel of what must come next.