Saturday, December 26, 2015

RADCLIFFE, by David Storey

««««« RADCLIFFE, by David Storey. I've had this old Avon Books paperback lying around on my shelves for years and years, but never got around to reading it until now. It's a pre-Stonewall gay novel, about a destructive, mutually obsessive relationship between two young men who cannot stay away from each other. It was first published in 1963 and is set in a bleak 1950s Yorkshire, England ... yet the Avon Books cover depicts the two main actors in the story as if they are about to head out to a 1970s disco in Key West or something.... Never mind that. This is actually my favourite cover of RADCLIFFE of all the many editions that have been issued over the years (scroll to see others below). This artist's depiction of Leonard Radcliffe, the sleepy-eyed aristocratic hero with his perpetual look of consolation, is nearly perfect. On the other hand, the depiction of the heavily muscled and tanned Vic Tolson contrasts somewhat with my image of a well-built Yorkshire workman whose exposure to the fogs, mists, and rains of Yorkshire are not likely to yield this tanned beach-body Mykonos party ideal.... But never mind that as well. It remains a strong evocation of the two main characters and the imbalanced nature of their relationship. Leonard Radcliffe -- one of my favourite heroes in fiction -- is the weak, submissive aesthete, partnered with Tolson's tall, strong, charismatic, aggressive, and dominating personality. The theme, which switches the authority of ruling class versus working class, might seem reminiscent of Robin Maugham's THE SERVANT. But the Gothic atmosphere of RADCLIFFE is what sets it apart as a hothouse of intensity and excess quite unique in literature. David Storey is a remarkable writer, and this was published when he was only 30 years old. At the time of its publication, it was easily the most important Gothic novel to come along since Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA. And unless something has escaped me, I can't think of any other Gothic novel since RADCLIFFE that is any better. Putting Leonard Radcliffe in the central role normally taken by a young female helps make this a wholly original take on the genre. And of course that appeals to my gay sensibilities enormously. This is an overwhelming story, steeped in atmosphere, and depicted using only exteriors, as if we are the camera or the chorus witnessing all of the key details of the story without ever penetrating the interior thoughts of the characters. But of course, it is the external details of landscape, architecture, action, and mood that give us the clues to what is going on in the characters' heads. The point of view, though wholly external, remains intensely focused on Leonard Radcliffe and his experiences as a young man who falls under the spell of the muscular Vic Tolson. Radcliffe is pretty much the last in the line of a long lineage of Radcliffes dating back to before the War of the Roses. Their manor house, the Place, is in a state of perpetual decay, and indeed is now managed by a trust, with Radcliffe's father put in charge and essentially employed as a caretaker. The Place serves as a metaphor for the decline of the aristocracy's place in modern English life, as well as the lies that lie behind the foundations of our society. RADCLIFFE is packed with symbols and themes, stirring a heady brew of emotion and violence that propels the story forward in richly dripping prose. This was an intoxicating novel whose strong pulsating story of sexual obsession had me hooked. If I had read this when I was younger, I may have found it depressing as a story. However, as an older reader, I found it an incredible work of art. I am now going to read everything else by David Storey (eventually), although I realize none of his other work approaches the same type of story and themes as in RADCLIFFE. **NOTE: Although I read my old Avon paperback, the novel is currently available in a 50th Anniversary Edition trade paperback published in 2013 by Valancourt Books. See below, as well as a sampling of other past covers for RADCLIFFE**