Tuesday, 1 July 2008

TOAST by Nigel Slater (pub. Harper £7.99) Observer & TV Chef, Nigel Slater relives his childhood and early adolescence with great piquancy and almost entirely through his culinary memories. This is the 60s in Wolverhampton and as unfertile a ground for an aspiring chef as you could imagine, shot through as it is with recollections of burnt toast, arctic roll and formica kitchens. Then comes the cruel and scarcely explained death of his mother, followed soon by the arrival of a well intentioned but brutal step-mother. His only refuge is food and in time it becomes his salvation. This is a beautiful read, often bittersweet, but with an excellent finish as he achieves culinary and sexual resolution in tandem. SM

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN by Anne Proulx (pub. Harper Perennial £7.99)Brokeback Mountain is the story of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two cowboys who share a small cabin while working as herders and camp tenders during a summer spent on a range far above the tree line. They fall into a relationship that at first seems solely sexual-but then reveals itself to be something more. Both men marry and have families, but over the course of many years and frequent separations they find their relation- ship becomes the most important thing in both their lives, and they do anything they can to maintain it. Proulx's description of their bond is beautiful and haunting-and often brutal in its portrayal of the hardships, and ultimately the violence, they face. MC

THE KENNETH WILLIAM DIARIES by Kenneth Williams (pub. Harper Collins £14.99) Thanks to Carry On, Round the Horne and Hancock reruns, KW endures as one of the finest British comedy talents of the last century. However, his diaries reveal in stark detail the flip side of an artist who utterly suspected his talent, probably because it came to him so easily. Published after his death, they stand like a Picture of Dorian Gray on public display and rarely make for cheery reading (the tag line is his suicide, for gods sake!). This is as honest an account of one man's struggle with his sexuality as you'll come across; and, oh, how he did struggle. Reviled and compelled by his homosexuality in equal measure he was a victim of his times. Hopelessly intimidated by the homophobic society he grew up in, he never achieved that point of sexuality maturity that no adult should be denied. SM

BORSTAL BOY by Brendan Behan (pub.Random House £9.99) 'If the English hoard their words like misers, the Irish spend them like sailors'. That was how critic Kenneth Tynan first introduced the author and playwright Brendan Behan and there's no shortage of words in this sweeping and tender account of a sixteen year old's term in a borstal after having tried to blow up the Liverpool Docks on behalf of the IRA. While Behan was not known to be gay in his lifetime - there were rumours - Borstal Boy has achieved a certain status on the gay lit reading lists and it makes for an entirely fluent and memorable read.