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Goodmans Hotel

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Success Stories

by Alan Keslian


ISBN 0 9525964 9 0
Published by Paradise Press, 2003
278pp, paperback
Retail price 8.99

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Review by Deborah Fisher

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Of the many volumes of fiction I've had sent me for review, this must rank as one of the most interesting reads. Alan Keslian's style is smooth and unforced, employing a minimum of artificial device, whilst unequivocally identifying itself as the work of a highly literate individual. The cover is classy yet welcoming, an open door inviting you into a story that wastes no time on gimmickry. No padding here, no unnecessary verbiage, just a plain story plainly told.

I wondered, straight away, how much of it was autobiographical. The clue is in the detailed explanations of where, when, how and why, questions that seldom trouble the casual reader. It's an endearing fault, revealing a conscientious desire for realism that tends not to be shared by best-selling authors. The idea that some readers might be actively put off by it was worrying. The story doesn't really get into its stride until about halfway through, by which time a couple of years are supposed to have passed since the action of the first chapter. That would be acceptable in a family saga; in literary fiction, the "flashback" technique usually works better.

As a novel, it has many shortcomings. The plot lacks any real climactic moment. Even the big break-up and subsequent reconciliation between Mark and Tom, which should be the dramatic focus towards which the action builds, is accomplished with a minimum of fuss and little emotional tension. Other incidents, such as the trips to Scotland and France, instead of dovetailing neatly into the narrative, appear almost unrelated to the other events described; and the decision to use dialogue to move the story along is not always helpful. It is not enough to throw a few grammatical errors into Tom's conversation in order to emphasise his working-class origins; other characters also need to be developed through their conversation. This doesn't, for the most part, happen. Meanwhile, the one female who is allowed to participate in the action is colourless and shows every sign of having been included out of tokenism, perhaps to demonstrate that gay men are not misogynistic. Yet the complete absence of lesbian guests in the hotel suggests a different conclusion.

After a while, it dawned on me that my desire to read on arose largely from a feeling of curiosity about a lifestyle of which I know very little. The portrayal of a gay love affair in similar terms to the "normal" description of heterosexual love entranced me, mainly because of the differences in emphasis. Mark worries that Tom will mind his having a better car and a higher status job. How often do we hear of a man being conscious of a woman's feelings on that score, even in fiction?

One subject continued to trouble me. We're always being told that gay men are not necessarily promiscuous, and Mark's response to the news that one of his friends has been paying a masseur for sex is an ambivalent one - yet he himself indulges in a casual fling, right at the start of the book, with a youth he has only just met. Not that he is any worse, in this respect, than many a heterosexual man. Perhaps it's me who is the prude. What I couldn't help feeling was that the author felt compelled to explain his main character's behaviour in the context of his sexual orientation, but that he tried so hard he actually drew attention to it, so that the reader can hardly help standing in judgement.

Yet the flaws that make this a partial failure as a novel could so easily, in different circumstances, have been features worthy of admiration. As a "true story", Goodmans Hotel would have succeeded in charting the growth of an individual. Mark's various experiences, his friendships with other men, his disenchantment with the culture of a conventional workplace, and his final settling down with a new lifestyle and a partner who, if not perfect, at least promises to bring him both physical comfort and peace of mind - all these are the stuff of which an enjoyable biography or autobiography is made. I simply couldn't get away from the idea that I was reading non-fiction.