Serious Things by Gregory Norminton
|Serious Things by Gregory Norminton|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A young civil servant is carrying a lot of body mass, and a huge guilty secret around with him, before a chance encounter allows him closure. A very dramatic read follows that the Bookbag recommends, for its flashbacks to public school life and contemporary moral adventure.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: January 2008|
Bruno Jackson is not settling down well in his public school. He is not particularly picked on for bullying, but coming from a home in Malaysia the weather is not exactly what he is used to, for one. Also he soon finds he is homosexual, and in the climate of an all boys' environment, things will never be easy. For him, luckily, there is the companionship of Anthony Blunden - he might well spend every hour wishing for much than just his friendship, but over the years they form a very firm clique of two.
Cut to modern times, and the clique is broken. Bruno appears to be too - on the large side, still gay, and unhappily celibate, and possibly unhappily working as a civil servant in the Department for Transport. All that has changed in the between times is mostly down to one shocking event, on one dramatic day, which remains a secret around which the whole book turns.
On the surface Bruno might be coping with his secret, but inside he is churning. This is made much worse when he bumps into Anthony and his wife at a party. What is the secret, and who might suffer the most for the revival of dangerous memories?
Reading this book there is a lovely sense of the secret, and beyond that the poise involved in delaying anything like its revelation. It is clear, as the narrative is shared evenly between school days and modern outfall, that we will see the events unfold, but before then we relish the agonising sense that this is a pretty serious turning point to look toward.
There is also a very superior look at character - especially that of Bruno, either as the teenager, or in large, current form. The writing throughout is excellent - the crux of the plot is set in wilfully obscure weather but told to us in crisp, clear terms. I often despair of the times I encounter the opposite - not here.
The novel is not a thriller as such, nor is it a public school book, although that does feature strongly in the setting. I was surprised how much of the school days were familiar, and by no means at all is that down to stereotypes used in other books - this was close to home for me, an old boy of a general comp (who never uses the phrase 'old boy'). The language is quite strong at a couple of junctures, and realism continues with details - dropped in for literary purposes and not as cheap handles on cultural baggage - and one particular four-letter F-word I had completely forgotten ever using.
What we have instead is very close to an ideal read, with a most compelling narrative, told perfectly. There was a bit of a downfall when some sticky social issues came into the plot - they feature in Bruno's current employ in ways that are both obvious and unwritten - and the responses by teachers and pupils to the first Gulf War were a bit naff and cloying. Also, if precedent does preclude the book from being totally original, it may well lie in one teacher at the school, who singles out friendly pupils and thrusts poetry down their throats in life-expanding and -affirming mode.
Thus is the valuable Bookbag fifth star lost. But the book certainly is well worth recommending. The reader is certainly left wondering, given that Gregory Norminton is the same age as his protagonists, how much of setting and character might be autobiographical. It also rankles that he's four years my junior, but I must get used to that, it seems. The writing, characterisation - and the measured depth with which the complexity of Bruno is shown is done to a T - and above all the plotting make the book well worth picking up. It is a one-sitting affair, which the Bookbag certainly recommends.
We would obviously then like to thank Sceptre for sending us a copy to sample.
You can read more book reviews or buy Serious Things by Gregory Norminton at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Serious Things by Gregory Norminton at Amazon.com.
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