On the Heath

Body Charge by Hunter Davies. Weidenfield & Nicholson — £2.

I really enjoyed Franco’s companionship for two or three nights. Franco is not a new boy-friend of mine, but the true hero of this novel…

He has a very fashionable job as an unlicenced mini-cab driver, but he is always wearing at least one part of his football gear even when he is working. For Franco doesn’t seem to like anything better than this sport and spends all his time off playing it on London’s Hampstead Heath with the first people who come along; a hobby which makes his grandmother ashamed of him. If he lives and shares his nice flat with her, it’s only because it’s more convenient. A very simple kind of life, indeed, and at first Franco’s character could appear as a kind of strange thirty-year-old school-kid, chatting about his contemporaries’ fantasies from a lucid although rather camp point of view.

Then he unfortunately gets involved in a fairly complicated adventure. Protagonists of this special drama are Zak, a sort of university drop-out, his sexy wife and small children, and Joff who is an unbearable BBC producer, who finds it’s not easy to share his life with both his young lover Eddie and his very straight wife.

A naked and strangled body is found in the Wild Pond one sunny morning on the Heath. Then a police inspector turns up, who asks Franco some very insidious questions about his way of life, and tries to make the amateur footballer admit he is a “homosexual”, a word which doesn’t echo in Franco’s head at all … while the police continue their investigations, he later discovers that his mate Ginger’s favourite sport isn’t football as he naively believed, but rather the high excitement of “fag hunting” in Hampstead Heath bushes.

I saw the book as a very professional “zoom”, to use a photographic term, on a guy completely lost among quotidian events who is led to find out his actual identity. But I wonder why such a “straight” – if the biographical information on the cover of the book is true – writer as Hunter Davies has decided to give us a rather honest explanation of “queer bashing”, and how he managed to write a few good pages of his novel about the Gay Lib Street Theatre …

Anyway, it’s time for straight literature to abandon its long-lasting stereotypes and cliches about gayness, isn’t it? Most of the time we are amazed to see the almost total ignorance of the subject when treated by so-called heterosexual authors, completely unable to go beyond the fascination/repulsion that homosexual relationships exercise on them. But then a “straight” reader could be disappointed not to find the usual emphasis on the stigma which must put a strain on all queers lives, but he has very little to lose really except a few misconceptions on the matter by reading “Body Charge”.

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