A novel by Alan Clark
Top 10 finalist for 2012 Polari First Book Prize
Amazon Reviews by Readers
This is the first novel from Alan Clark; he has had a chequered career and was prompted into writing this when Sue Townsend told him that, he had wasted his life thus far. So I think we owe her a debt of gratitude, as this is one of the funniest, thoughtful, irreverent and charming books I have had the pleasure of reading.
It is about Rory Blaine, he was orphaned at an early age and taken into the care of his very right of centre Grand Mother. He was brought up in a fantastic gothic mansion in North London not far from Hampstead Heath. At some time in his past he was caught in the folly committing what his Grand Mother considered to be an extreme folly indeed. He was thus exiled to boarding school in Scotland, with no-one to care for him but Miss Wishart the spinsterly matron of Glenlyons. On her death bed she seems to have decided to forgive him and he is not only summoned by a once household name in show biz Mr Vic D'Orsay, who has befriended the dying woman, but also is put back into inherit the mansion. Vic has an idea for its' future which takes hold in Rory's mind. That is to turn it into the countries first retirement home for gay men or as Quentin Crisp once said `stately homo's''
What unfolds is how he and Vic pull it off, no pun intended, and all the characters that come together (sorry another one) to make it happen. There is love, tragedy, English heritage and a load of laughs along the way. This is one of those books you are sorry to finish as you get to know and in nearly all cases love the characters. I hope Alan Clark decides not to waste any more of his life and writes another, seriously he writes so well that I would pay to see his shopping list, he would probably have something filthy on it too - bless him, thoroughly recommended.
Entertaining, 12 Sep 2011
Really enjoyed this. Rory Blaine has been professionally successful, despite the fact that he has been disowned by his family. However, this has come at a cost - his personal life has been a disaster. Openly gay, he has kept people at arms length and has seemingly revelled in the stereotypically promiscuous lifestyle which can be found in the capital. However, all this is called into focus when he surprisingly inherits his grandmother's house and decides to turn it into a retirement home for gay men. Whilst pursuing this project, he is forced to face up to his past and address his plans for the future. It's a very enjoyable book, with a credible lead character. It manages to capture the problems raised by homosexuality, even in a more liberal society. A very good read.
How Morgan would have laughed, 9 Sep 2011
David Spanswick (Brighton, UK)
Morgan Forster wrote a naughty book and several naughty stories but hid them away and they were never published until long after he had died an old old man.
Reading "Rory's Boys" I fancied the ageing Forster ending up at "Withering Heights" and enjoying the last few years of his life exchanging tales, anecdotes and his naughty stories with the wonderfully larger than life Vic D'Orsay and Big Frankie, possibly the first gerontophile to feature in English fiction (reader, please correct me if you know of any other examples).
Alan Clark's book is overtly funny and has a tradition that goes back to "Tristram Shandy" with its first person narrator; it also follows the tradition of decadence, many of which examples are already listed by other reviewers and on its own jacket, but it wasn't until I was, maybe, a third of the way through that I realised that it was also a very important book. It gave voice to a lost generation - the rebellious men who refused to be counted as criminals by their very natures. Now grown old the fight has gone out of them but they, too, need to be cared for; cherished.
The plight of the elderly is recorded daily in the media, sadly neglected is the plight of the elderly outcast, the man whom society deigned "untouchable" through a series of vicious bigoted laws, mostly with a religious, dare I say it, Christian influence.
Vic d'Orsay, arguably one of the greatest fictional characters of modern times when replying to a would be tenant of the new retirement home who is still worried about being "found out" replies to Rory :
" They were criminals till they were thirty or forty. Some of them have never got the chill of that out of their bones, however cosy things might be now. The shame may have gone, but the embarrassment's still there like a ball and chain. They learn to drag it around but they never entirely lose it"
Humour conceals a lot of truth in this book: the comic was often the tortured schoolboy, and there are stand out passages such as the scene that takes place on the London Eye during a so-called discovered bomb that turns out to be a bag of knitting belonging to Elspeth, another superbly drawn character.
The piece that really grabbed me by the throat and brought tears of both sadness and understanding was the television interview where Vic stands up to the bigoted Bishop with his appallingly homophobic views (and horribly replicated in much of the overseas news as I write). The Bishop sees castration as a solution to help gay men find God. Vic retorts that:
"...he wasn't a huge fan of God's. He wasn't impressed by God's CV.....God not having turned up for work a few too many times"
In this same television programme the interviewer, loving referred to as Stroppy Tits asks if Vic ever came out to his parents before they died. Vic's reply is to tell the story of a time in a concentration camp when he showed tenderness to another boy who was wearing a pink triangle and subsequently being rejected by both brother and father. This historic realisation knocks for six any idea that this is solely a flippant piece of pink fiction - indeed Vic's tale would make a remarkable audition piece.
I cited E. M. Forster at the beginning of this review as he was a great writer who could not bring himself to publish his Truths. Alan Clark may well be on the way to correcting this shortcoming since "Rory's Boys" manages to achieve in one short book as many aspects of gay culture as there are colours in the Rainbow Flag.
So thank you, Alan Clark, for writing a witty, articulate and moving book and I hope there will be more from you about "Withering Heights" and its wealth of absolutely fabulous characters.
Richly satisfying, 1 Sep 2011
Mr. D.L. Rees "Lee David" (Dorset)
When only fifteen, Rory Blaine was outed and ousted - cast from Mount Royal by his formidable one-legged Fascist grandmother. Now, thirty years later, he has unexpectedly inherited the family mansion. What delicious irony to convert it into a retirement home for gays!
All the way through, the novel delights with its wit and colourful characters. Unexpectedly one in particular almost steals the show: Rory's former school matron straightlaced Elspeth Wishart branches out awesomely. (If ever filmed, this is surely a role to be fought over by the country's leading veteran actresses.)
Serious matters underpin the fun. People deserve lives free from prejudice. Note that television interview where aging pop idol Vic d'Orsay is confronted by a bishop declaring exactly what God thinks of people like him.
Surprises, shocks and tragedy feature amidst so much that richly amuses. The central theme I found moving. Rory, admittedly at a great price, is creating a real home for those perhaps disowned by relatives once their sexual preference became known. Ever since so many have drifted. Instead of their facing ever-increasing loneliness, Rory is ensuring the Autumn of their lives becomes an Indian Summer.
No way is this a novel to be read quickly, it crammed with moments to savour. Paragraph two on page one will have many laughing aloud, the first of a whole procession of hilarious treats.
Earthy humour and a great tale. 26 Aug 2011
bluecougar25 "hobbitblue" (Liverpool, UK)
Where do aging gay men spend their final years? Shifting around in a normal old folks home hiding their true natures in order not to offend or upset, or could there be an alternative, a haven for like-minded people. This is the intriguing idea behind Rory's Boys, as Rory, aging but not yet past it thank you very much, becomes embroiled in a madcap scheme to provide a "home for homos", and learns a lot about his own life, past and what love and the future hold in store for him as well.
This is a rollicking good read, quite open about men seeking men for sex and love and covers the seedy side as well as the emotional, with such a ready wit and some great one liners, it had me hooked from the first few pages. Vibrant characters, strong language, some great set-pieces and a number of larger-than-life characters, emotional ups and downs and many giggles along the way, the book is spread over several years as Mount Royal turns from an aging neglected mansion to a place for "Rory's Boys". There are so many great one-liners and throwaway gems here, and the plot and characters make a refreshing change. Another reviewer wondered who this book is aimed at - anyone and everyone who likes a dose of earthy humour and a rattling good tale!
Original, funny and perceptive., 23 Aug 2011Booklover Joseph (UK)
There are lots of gay coming-out novels, gay romances and portraits of gay life. But they are mostly about young gay men. Alan Clarke's novel is about gay men growing old, with their physical powers declining, their attractiveness sagging (there is a scene in the book in a gay sauna which will resonate with many of us older gay readers)but with their identities and personalities intact. Set around the establishment of a retirement home for gay men, the book is often cruelly funny. But the fun has a serious edge to it, for this is also a book about the life-long search for contentment and companionship. It is also about the enduring nature of sexual preferences and eccentricities in which, again, many of us will recognise ourselves. This book makes the invisible older generation visible, alive, individualistic and admirable. It is a wonderful book.
I am not one to gush, 1 Aug 2011
A. J. Russell-Pattison "Tony" (Manchester. U.K.)
What follows is an e-mail I sent to all my friends on completing this book. Enough said!
I am not one to gush..No seriously. However if I find something to gush about, gush I must.
I have just finished a book called Rory's Boys by Alan Clark (pub 2011). Amazon sent it to me to review. A good job really as if I had seen the really naff cover on a book shop shelf with its terribly anodyne blurb on the front I would have sniffed and walked by. Marketeers are not what they used to be!
The fiction (for it is such) centres around the establishment of the first gay retirement home in the UK. Oh but what a fiction! Skilfully written with pathos and wit it has, as I am assured they say in theatrical circles, a bit of everything, laughter, tears etc. Added to this the author has a real talent for well placed one liners. The result, I laughed out loud more times than for any other novel in the last ten years and cried an appreciably similar amount of times. The characters are, well really characters. The plot is outlandish but feasible if you are or have known/loved someone who is gay and of a "certain age". It's been a while since anything made me feel proud to be an ageing fairy in a world obsessed with youth but this book did it.
Is it a great literary work? No, thank God, it's much more fun than that. I read it in two sittings. It is however a great first novel and will, given the chance bring much pleasure to many. Why not give it the chance? It's worth it!
Available from Amazon.
No I do not know or sleep with the author or any members of staff connected with the publishers.
Gay book for the non-gays, 27 July 2011
As someone who doesn't normally read 'gay' books, I was a bit unsure at first whether I'd enjoy this jolly romp that ranges from peachy bottoms to upmarket retirement homes for ancient but still frisky camp actors. But on the recommendation of a friend I tried it and, as well as learning quite a lot about the gay world, I found it a great page-turner with twisting plot, good jokes, and also a strong undertow of psychological damage, loss, and even death. So something for everyone. Quite a few loose ends left dangling, so either the author got bored, or he has a sequel planned.
Witty, funny, gripping. Thoroughly enjoyed it!, 26 July 2011
Mr. R. Ellor "Roy Ellor" (Salford, United Kingdom)
This book passed my bedtime test. That is, I ended up reading into the wee small hours because I was thoroughly engrossed and didn't want to stop!
Rory Blaine is a middle aged but well preserved gay Scot, who is comfortable with his lifestyle but not with his sexuality as a whole. Having been frozen out of his extreme right wing grandmother's life after a teenage sexual indiscretion, he goes off to Australia and returns to build up his own successful life. When she eventually dies, her palatial but crumbling house Mount Royal comes to Rory together with a new business partner and together they turn this almost stately pile into a retirement home for gay men.
That's as far as I'll go with describing this story as it's so wonderfully crafted, with plot twists and turns and incredible coincidences. That's where it passed the test for me. What kept me reading was the simple fact that the book held my attention by not being in the least bit formulaic or predictable. Characters are all snappily and beautifully drawn (warts and all) and there is literally not an ounce of literary fat in there. Plots twist, unravel and change course with precision; holding your attention as the great house progresses over a number of years until what has been nicknamed by the cynical press as "Withering Heights" opens its exclusive doors to a colourful and almost rogueish group of clients.
Alan Clark has created a masterpiece. In fact I sincerely hope this is the first of a number of books in this setting as the ending does leave it in a place where the story could be continued (but not with any crashing cliffhanger as Clark brings the book to a close neatly). It isn't normally the sort of book that would attract me but the wit, larger than life characters, improbable coincidences, occasional out-loud laughs and tight plotting kept my attention through every single page and for that I give it a well deserved five stars.
Glitter and be Gay, 16 July 2011
The immediately striking feature of this dazzling first novel is the author's beguiling felicity of phrase. Of a young doctor, `'He was Mother Teresa with an arse to die for.'' After an apology to a clergyman, `'He forgave me with that irritating condescension which makes you want to kill believers in anything''. The sparkling prose tells a faintly surreal but very page-turning story, with a large number and variety of characters, mostly gay. For the most part they are simply vehicles for the author's `talent to amuse' (and, as in Coward, the working-class characters are strictly for laughs). But not by any means entirely, and the most interesting character in the book is the narrator himself. He is superbly well-observed. At his first encounter with his daughter, `'As I glugged the whisky, I felt a sudden easing, as if some tiny muscle inside which has been in spasm for years had relaxed itself.'' Sensitive soul, yes, but brimming with self-confidence, he is at pains to make the reader feel inexperienced, unsophisticated and easily shocked. (You have never heard of sphincter exercises? Where have you been? And in case you think I am intellectually lightweight, I shall throw in a reference to George Eliot.'') But he is even more at pains to make the reader think hard about the problems faced by gay men, whom he depicts as no longer (in white Britain at least) persecuted, but still marginalised. How can such a person be happy?
Some of the roads to happiness are not explored. There is nothing about the magic of self-expression, nothing about philosophical speculation, nothing about ` prayer, observance, discipline ...' The key lies in a relationship with another man, and the author's search for this relationship is the driving force in the narrative.
One could say that the author does not suffer fools gladly. He does not suffer them at all, and he is not interested in the tentative, the striving for the ineffable, the not-precisely. He presents a picture of life designed by a callous creator; it is essentially foolish and pointless; but thank goodness, it is funny. And you can get through it with a good man at your side (or in some other position, if consensual). I'll drink to that!
A British Tales of the City, 9 July 2011Mendoza (Edinburgh, Scotland.)
This book is a ridiculously good read. A friend recommended it to me, and I am so glad he did. The characters are wonderfully likeable - slightly 'out there' but believable - and the story is genuinely touching. It's a book you can relate to as it covers universal issues such as family, forgiveness, friendship and love. I agree with other reviewers that I hope there is a sequel. As the title of my review suggests, this has the potential to be a British 'Tales of the City...' and by that I mean it has a cast of well-formed, loveable characters who I want to know more about. It's a really refreshing, original read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Gay Delight, 2 July 2011
C. R. G. Ellis "Royston Ellis" (Sri Lanka)
Although this is billed as a "gay novel" and has enough gay characters to fill a couple of charabancs, it has mass-market appeal because of its humour, ingenious plot, and utterly surprising - but totally believable -- developments. Set in contemporary times, with lots of jokes about famous personalities, it occasionally seems like a throwback to an Evelyn Waugh style 1920s. It is hugely enjoyable, erudite and cleverly written. One small niggle: several punctuation marks are missing and there is even a typo on the cover. However, that shouldn't deter anyone from buying this super novel and having a jolly good time with its protagonist. It would make an enchanting movie, and I hope there will be a sequel, since all ends, comparatively, happily.