Briefs Encountered by Julian Clary

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Briefs Encountered by Julian Clary

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Plenty of outrageous Julian Clary moments in this comic ghost story. For my money the excellent reconstruction of Noel Coward’s life and times made this book well worth reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Ebury Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0091938857

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Choosing this book from Julian Clary was irresistible. Normally, I try not to review books where I’m already familiar with author. But I didn’t feel that seeing him live several times or watching him regularly on TV counted, as I hadn’t read either of his two previous novels.

Initially, I found ‘Briefs Encountered’ quite difficult to get into. To be honest I have no interest in Noel Coward, except when someone quotes one of his superbly cutting comments, which always make me laugh. And then Julian Clary kept on popping up in the story as an irritating animus to the main character, Richard, whereas I have a firmly-held, possibly irrational prejudice, that Julian Clary is a really nice bloke in the flesh.

Once upon a time explicit sex might have shocked me, but it’s many years since gay relationships became a normal part of life. As a public, I think we’ve outgrown our prurient interest in gay sex. Julian Clary, making us laugh with his outrageous double entendres, was a hugely normalising influence, helping us to move in relatively few years from accepting legal homosexuality among consenting adults to welcoming gay marriage.

It was only when I’d finished the book, that I realised how very clever it was. Most obviously, Clary’s two heroes have similarities which intertwine their fates at various times. Richard is the viewpoint character – a has-been actor who buys Noel Coward’s house in Kent, only to find it haunted. Alternate chapters re-tell the Lympne part of Coward’s life in the third person. Clearly the temptation to mirror Coward was overwhelming, so Clary’s loosely reinterprets ‘Blithe Spirit’. The artificial Coward plotline creaks a bit so it’s hardly surprising that the same happens in this book. With a bit of tweaking, Richard’s story gathers pace until it’s a page-turner.

Now here’s the interesting bit. What I most enjoyed about ‘Briefs Encountered’ was finding out about Noel Coward. Julian Clary brought him to life for me, and I didn’t doubt Coward’s petulant personality for an instant. I have no idea if his speeches came from Noel Coward’s collected sayings or Julian Clary’s imagination, but I fell for each and every line of rapier wit. I presume that Mum, Violet, and Dad, Arthur, Aunt Vida, and his manager/lover, Jack, were either real people in Coward’s life or at least reasonably authentic guesses. They certainly breathed with a healthy pink glow as if they’d been very thoroughly researched. So this book has given me plenty to think about, after all. Maybe we can look forward to more historical fiction or biography from Julian Clary. Is he the new Jean Plaidy? Well, why not?

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

If you also enjoyed the Noel Coward angle, then you might like to try Oscar's Books by Thomas Wright, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, or Disaster was my God by Bruce Duffy, which deals with the self-destructive French poet Arthur Rimbaud.

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