by Stuart Carey
‘Robbie’s Story’, writes its author Stuart Carey, has been three decades in the making, sadly the book feels very much like it got stuck there. The story of a piece of gay literature that couldn’t find a publisher is, sadly, a far too common one as it is only in the last ten to fifteen years or so we have seen a lot more hit our bookshelves and even move across into the mainstream, with perhaps one of the most popular pieces of gay fiction, Call Me by Your Name, hitting shelves in 2007. However the medium is now becoming more and more populated by exciting writing, but Carey’s story of hopeless romantic Robbie feels a little out of its depth in this modern sea of LGBTQ+ literature.
The titular story is a simple one, a coming of age tale of our young protagonist as he moves from man to man on his journey to find ‘the one’, with friends coming and going but very little drama in the way. The writing is a little repetitive and stiff with very little poetic nuance, more like a memoir than a work of fiction and perhaps if it had been released in the eighties I could forgive a lot but as a recent publication I found that there were little things that became gradually infuriating. Predominantly Carey’s constant need to call out ‘black’ characters by their skin colour without any narrative or contextual reasoning began to jump out, which again as an eighties trope would be fairly common but as a modern piece of literature, it jarred heavily and the excessive use of the phrase ‘ruddy’ made me feel that it was there as a holding place for a more believable working class slur in order to not cause offence, which when juxtaposed with graphic sexual descriptions come across as confused.
That all said, the story is fairly serviceable as a light read and offers a nice insight into the world of being a gay man in that strange time between decriminalisation and the backlash of the AIDS epidemic however the lack of protagonist or drama doesn’t keep the pages turning like one would hope. The sleeve promises blackmail and attempted murder but these plot points arise half way through and are resolved mere pages later, no drama is ever high enough to make us feel closer to the protagonist and the sex scenes aren’t tame enough to make the book suitable for a young reader and perhaps not titillating enough for an older. All of this culminates in the question, who is this book for, and I don’t think that Carey knows.
© Harry Richards