T'S BEEN A long time since John R. Gordon's last novel, Warriors & Outlaws, but in the meantime, we've had episodes of Noah's Arc (as well as the screenplay for the film, Jumping The Broom), and the brilliant short film Souljah. But since Gordon's publisher - the iconic Gay Men's Press - folded, no new books.
So, has fourth novel Faggamuffin been worth the wait?
Here's a clue: it was on the stage in London, long before the novel was even published. Iconic, black gay singer McAlmont was in the audience (I know - I held the door for him as he exited the theatre).
Faggamuffin joins John R. Gordon's previous works - Black Butterflies, Skin Deep, and Warriors & Outlaws - a definitive gay, Afrocentric oeuvre, with a very London bias. But here's the really important thing about Faggamuffin: it's a gripping page-turner. Set aside its impressive literary credentials - the searing, undeniable truth-telling - and you've got an electrifying plot in which our protaganist, Cutty, flees homophobic violence (and the murder of his lover, Sonny) in Jamaica, pitching up in London at the flat of acquaintance (and mini drug baron) Buju. And one tiny spark becomes a night of blazing suspense: Cutty and Buju's lust - and love - becomes an all consuming fire, and the novel deals with the fall-out from that, with Cynthia, Buju's girlfriend, standing by with a fire extinguisher.
(Spoiler: the moment Cutty and Buju finally come together should go down in history as one of the most exciting, sexiest, moments in literary fiction. Trust me: you'll shout, "WTF?")
This is a sexy, deeply moving novel, an unlikely love story forged out of the hell this world has created for some of us. Ever wondered what it's really like to be a gay Jamaican (chances are, you're probably not one)? Hearing, secondhand, about the horrors endured by our brothers in that part of the world is one thing, but actually living them through Cutty is another. The novel subtley reminds us that, but for the grace of God (as it were), you or I could be Cutty, and asks us to consider how we might deal with the impossible circumstances Cutty finds himself in. Because let's face it - most of us reading Faggamuffin won't be under the cosh, will we?
Getting under Cutty's skin is a privilege, the trade-off being that we get to see ourselves through the eyes of one who doesn't have the freedoms most of us enjoy. Particularly effective is Cutty's response to London's gay village, Soho. Through Cutty's eyes, we witness the apparent freedoms enjoyed by London's gays, and thus see ourselves as those less fortunate see us. But Gordon takes it a step further; later, when Cutty hears of the violent homophobia that still exists in Britain, Cutty's vision of a tolerant, liberal paradise is shattered. Cutty sees that Britain really isn't much better than Jamaica: here, the violence is simmering just beneath the surface. That reader who might smugly have gone along with Cutty's initial summation is forced to remove their rose-tinted glasses.
The cast of (mostly West London) characters are expertly drawn by Gordon, who's lived in that part of the world for 20 years. As you'd expect, leads Cutty and Buju are lovingly drawn, consequently engulfing the reader in their unexpected romance. The boys in Buju's click are all interesting, carefully drawn characters, rather than the irritating one-note stereotypes they might easily have been. Even potentially unsympathetic characters are rendered human: cock-blockin', manipulative Cynthia could easily have been a one dimensional monster in less skilled hands, yet instead evokes a surprising degree of sympathy.
Ultimately, Faggamuffin is sexy, searing, thoughtful, romantic, exciting, brutal, and much more, but there's just one thing you need to know: this is a story like no other, that had my heart, mind and pulse racing - sometimes, all at once - and it's the best novel you'll read this year.
Read our exclusive interview with author John R. Gordon.