Alasdair Duncan, Metro (2006)

25 Apr

metro.pngIt would be really interesting to read what people closer in age or milieu think of this book. Alasdair Duncan is “a writer, journalist, charming drunk and freelance practitioner of dark humour, based in Brisbane on the East Coast of Australia… He survives by the good grace of cold beer, decent conversation and romantic, moonlit bouts of intense neurosis and self-doubt, and writes a weekly column for Rave, Brisbane’s most popular music magazine.” (I even joined MySpace so I could explore that profile! Don’t expect my profile there to amount to much, but I may go back and add a little to it — links and such.) He is the same age as Mister Rabbit, not to mention Ian Thorpe, but I suspect The Rabbit might not like the book.

At some levels I did like the book. First, there were some pretty hot sex scenes… However, it tended to confirm all my worst suspicions/observations about the young clubby gay scene, even if I suspect it was meant to. I will now steal a summary from Daniel Smith on GAYinWA:

Nineteen year old Liam Kelly looks like everybody around him – he dresses like everybody around him, went to a private school, drives an expensive car and everybody around him thinks he is just like them.

However, Liam has a secret. He has sex with other guys sometimes. It’s not that he’s a ‘fag’… it’s just something that he does sometimes.

Yeah, right.

Metro gives us a slightly satirical, somewhat cynical and quite real look into the internalised homophobia of a preppy Brisbane boy.

Set in the Queensland capital’s leafier suburbs, Metro begins with Liam’s girlfriend (very good looking, of course) heading off to Europe for a six month back-packing experience. Despite pledging love and fidelity, Liam embarks on a series of frolics with other boys… or ‘fags’, as Liam calls them.

Liam’s hatred of his own sexuality comes out through his appalling treatment of his gay lovers, leaving them battered and bruised, both emotionally, and sometimes physically. Like many closet cases that have come before him, Liam obsesses with gay references, being openly hostile towards homosexuality when among his straight male friends.

Obsessed with protecting his secret, Liam is oblivious to the disastrous effect that such behaviour can have on other people – especially those who are also struggling with their sexuality.

Like Sutekh The Destroyer commenting on that review, I doubt the ending sentence “everything’s going to be all right” will prove to be the case, and yes it does suggest a sequel, doesn’t it? Daniel Smith says Metro “tackles … issues in a sensitive and insightful way and it is a valuable contribution.” I think I agree with that. Liam is often a total bastard, but the scene rewards bastards it seems. But he is a bit more than a total bastard. He is also deeply conflicted, and the moments of self-realisation, often rejected, are nonetheless well rendered by the writer. I really think we are meant to see there is something rather wrong with all this at the most elementary human level. And it isn’t just the young who are lost either.

A reviewer older than Liam (or Alasdair) but much younger than I is MAN ABOUT TOWN.

…The latest book I’ve finished reading is Metro, the ‘difficult’ second novel by Brisbane author Alasdair Duncan. Arguably Metro is adult fiction rather than YA, given Duncan’s frank approach to his subject matter, but like Adam Ford’s debut novel Man Bites Dog, which covers similar ground, his exploration of post-adolescent/early 20-something life is written in a relatively simplistic way, suggesting it is more pitched at younger readers than those for whom the angst of their 20’s is already comfortably (or even uncomfortably) removed…

Over the 297 pages of this novel, Liam sexually abuses an array of vulnerable young men – including the emo younger brother of his best friend; cheats on his girlfriend while she’s overseas; takes shitloads of drugs; and references various ‘cool’ bands and fashion labels in an endless parade of namedropping which the author perhaps intends should indicate his narrator’s superficial nature, but which comes across instead as poorly aping the literary style of Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk.

Liam’s array of equally superficial friends are poorly defined, lacking characterisation and coming across as virtually interchangeable, although it’s possible that this could have been a deliberate move by the author, an indictment of their empty lives and personalities. If you Google yourself, Alasdair, and read this review, please do let me know.

My greatest criticism of this novel is that nothing really happens in it. Yes, people die, there are AIDS scares and the hint of true love and fights and the probable suicide of a best friend – but by the time the book ends, none of this seems to have impacted on the main character…

I disagree with much of that. For a start I don’t see the novel as Young Adult fiction in any way, nor is it “more pitched at younger readers than those for whom the angst of their 20’s is already comfortably (or even uncomfortably) removed.” It is a much more mature presentation of its particular scene than that. It may not be an “indictment”, that would be too heavy, but it certainly encourages reflection. I found the narrative voice quite believable, but I really don’t think we are meant to endorse the narrator’s world-view. If the voice often seems hollow, that surely is the point.

Nor is it true that “nothing happens”. The presumed suicide of Lachlan and reactions to it ring very true to me. But then, how much can you expect to “happen” in the life of a 19-year-old ex-private school rower?

There is a short interview of Alasdair Duncan on QNet. It also boasts one of the best typos I have seen lately: Liam, it seems, is almost trapped by his own prejudices, expectorations to be a good boyfriend to his girlfriend, and aspirations to be successful like his brother. Do you try to make a social commentary in your books, or is that not a goal for you? That would make you spit, wouldn’t it? 😉

And I suspect Liam and his friends really live upstairs here at Elizabeth Street Surry Hills…

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3 responses to “Alasdair Duncan, Metro (2006)

  1. Ron

    May 22, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    I just finished this book a few minutes ago and felt quite disturbed and a bit upset after reading it. I thought I would Google for other’s thoughts on it.

    What upset me? The bashing of Kristian by Liam. It just struck a chord in me and made me really sad, even depressed. Perhaps I unconsciously saw it as a metaphor for the physical and mental lives of many gay boys and men who aren’t ‘in crowd’ types. I don’t know, I just feel upset, even angry. Maybe I should have waited a while and given it more thought before leaving this comment.

    Apart from that, if it hadn’t been for the occasional hot sex scene, the book would have been boring and is probably typical of a second novel.

    Let’s hope Alasdair’s next one is more mature with less cardboard cutout characters.

  2. ninglun

    May 22, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    I agree about the bashing of Kristian, but really don’t think we are meant to admire Liam. Be interesting to see if Alasdair does something more with the character in a later novel.

  3. Ron

    May 22, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    I’ve calmed down a bit 🙂 although my mood tonight has been a bit grouchy and my family’s keeping away from me.

    I would love to see a sequel where Liam, somehow, makes amends to Kristian (I’m not trying to make the whole thing a soapie but that bashing is something that’s going to be on my mind for a while).

    I’ve started re-reading ‘Sushi Central’ for some reason when perhaps I should be reading something comical or really romantic.

    Thanks for giving me somewhere to vent.

    Cheers Ron

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