Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
During the 1970s and 80s, the United Kingdom saw a large rise in neo-Nazi groups. One of the main figures in this was a tough street brawler named Nicky Crane. What many of his fellow skinheads didn't know, or chose to ignore, was that Crane was gay. In fact, there was a whole lot of gays in a movement that denounced gays as perverts and often participated in gay bashing.
That odd bit of history is the basis for this novel, which follows the adventures of a young gay skinhead growing up in those times, and also a gay researcher from the modern day looking into Britain's fascist past. The researcher is, one presumes, trying to figure out why so many gays ended up being neo-Nazis. Some other reviews of this book complain that this question is never answered. I suspect that's because the question is unanswerable. I don't blame the author for this because I certainly don't have an explanation for it!
I do, however, have some problems with this book, which gave me one of the most uneven reading experiences I've ever had. The story of Tony, a teenager growing up in the neo-Nazi movement of the 1970s, is riveting. We get an inside look at how groups like the National Front operated, and we get a feeling for Tony's split identity, fueled by his infatuation/hero worship of Nicky Crane.
I had no sympathy, however, for James, a modern day trust fund baby researching the movement by looking at old fanzines and leaflets in the British Library. James is obviously a stand in for the author, and we get pages upon pages of chattering class pretension about fine dinners, expensive French cider, and an unearned sense of superiority. Why is it that British writers of a certain social class can never stray far from their comfort zones? As my wife pointed out, the author was playing to the interests of his publisher's audience: "Granta readers need this reassurance." I suppose they do. It comes off as the literary equivalent of a "safe space" for rich people.
So I found myself increasingly annoyed by James, who had nothing to add to the story other than his own self-obsession. Still, the writing is excellent, and the book is illustrated with reproductions of old National Front literature that make for fascinating reading. If the author had the guts to cut out James entirely, and only keep Tony's story, this would have been a five-star book.
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