There’s a wonderful sense of rhythm and poetry to his descriptions of life in an underground public convenience.
It was possible to tell from the sound alone which cubicle had opened or closed. The doors of the seventeen cubicles were like a musical scale. Each hollow space they enclosed had a different frequency. The flushing of the cistern in cubicle three had a different sound from cubicle eleven. Sometimes he could tell the mass or weight of the individual occupying a cubicle by the shape of slight sounds within enclosed space, the click of a belt buckle, the slide of trousers, the sigh of peace.
The book follows Ezekial (Ez) Murphy, from his first day in a new job, as a cleaner in a large and busy public toilet, under the streets of a busy business district of London.
A hardworking and committed Christian, Ez is shocked when he discovers that some of the mostly white local bankers and accountants, use the places for something totally other than it’s intended use.
It turns out that they are a well-known place for casual-sex or cottaging. His initial shock, turns into a bewildered curiosity. What causes the men to want take part in such-an-act.
“Maybe these people not gay. Gay men mostly don’t have to come to dis place. Go to other places. Dese men family men, lonely men.”
His fellow workers, bring their own thoughts and prejudices to the matter, Jason a practicing Rastafarian, believes it’s a matter of race, a ‘problem’ almost exclusive to ‘whitey. Where as their more pragmatic manager just wants to stop the practice and keep the place for the use it is intended, especially as the council is putting the pressure on for just that.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a story laced with an unpleasant anti-gay sentiment, especially, as Jason the most strongly opinionated of the three workers, calls their place of work: The Swamp, the cottagers ‘reptiles’ and that the story centers around the attempt to clean up the place and stop the acts from happening there. But the story is so much more intelligent and far more subtle than that. Gents, is a story about prejudice, but it’s also a parable about tolerance, acceptance and not judging others lifestyles.
Like all really good writing, it’s what’s not being said, that is just as important was what is being said. And both in this are handled with a beautiful light touch.
The brief scenes of Ez’s home-life and his conversations with his wife, are a wonderful example of this, she knows when to keep quiet or nudge the direction a conversation is taking, that lets Ez sort out a conundrum on his own, often without him really realising what that conundrum might be. She’s the type of person, whose “Hmm…” conveys more meaning than another person hour-long speech!
A gem of a book.