So – I finished Atonement and got stuck into GENTS by Warwick Collins – discovered whilst reading Scott Pack’s (The Friday Project) blog. I’ve always had a thing for toilets – genetic I reckon – from my mother’s side. Descriptions of her travels and excursions were often reduced to ‘lovely toilets’. I do recall a long conversation with a man in the LADIES at the bottom of Lansdown Hill in Bath, circa 1975 – they were gleaming porcelain with classic brass fittings – my mother commented on how lovely his brass looked and we were treated to a discourse on the merits of bicarb, Brasso, etc etc. He took such pride in his work and wore a long brown coat, like a technician.

So to GENTS – ‘Ezekiel Murphy, a West Indian immigrant, takes up a new job as an attendant at a large London lavatory. The supervisor, Josiah Reynolds, and Jason, a third West Indian, explain that their main problem is the casual sex which takes place in the cubicles. Under pressure from the council authorities to reduce such behaviour, they expect Ez to help them in ‘cleaning out the swamp’. 

Great front cover, annoying BIG print and spacious type set which made me feel like I was reading ‘young adult fiction’ for lapsed readers. Nice enough story, some good phrases and feelings but why can’t I make my mind up about this book? The cover says it is ‘quietly establishing itself as an international literary classic’. I find myself wondering if it should have been a short story? A play? Radio or TV. A film even? Something about the precision of his narrative jarred with the dialogue. If this was a screenplay his exact description of the way the men move a mop across a floor, scrub urinals, fill and empty buckets, glance in mirrors, would be fantastic. The spartan dialogue captures the mood of the men, the unspoken in a lot of what they say, shrugging as they speak when they clearly have so much more going on in their minds. The relationship between Reynolds and Jason is only hinted at, the relationships with the wives too, and Steve, Ez’s son. If I had seen this as a Play for Today (whatever they call that now!) or heard it on Radio 4 one evening, or seen a film version (very Kinky Boots, Bend it Like Beckham, East is East) I would have been telling everyone to see/hear it if they got the chance – but in this form I doubt whether I would. I reckon the Friday Project should commission a screenplay and get the movie made. It does raise the question of genre and form though, what happens if you have a great storyline but can’t decide the best way to present it? I suppose that’s where an agent comes in to a certain extent. If you’ve read it I’d be interested to know what you made of it, and I will send my copy on to be read by friends to see how they react.


1 comment so far

  1. Ruth on

    >send my copy on to be read by friends
    is that “friends” as in “friends & family”?

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