02 September 2012

Fires of London

by Leigh Lundin

Wot's a nice, straight all-American dude reading about the London gay scene some seventy years ago? I just finished Fires of London, Janice Law's novel about the mid-1900s English/Irish artist, Francis Bacon (not the Elizabethan logician, philosopher and essayist, nor other historical figures).

cover
Let's get one issue immediately out of the way: Yes, the star of Fires of London is flaming. I confess inquisitiveness, wondering how the author might handle Bacon's homosexuality and penchant for BDSM, especially given the number of exploitative erotic romances written by– and for the titillation of– straight women. I congratulate Janice on making Bacon's sex life integral, immersive, and tasteful, even sensitively done. Androphilia is beyond my ken, but the author makes the window of understanding accessible. Not only has the author handled Bacon's sexuality better than other authors, Janice's research, art background, and careful craftsmanship set this story apart from other historicals.

Fires of London draws upon art, poetry, history, mythology, and the classics. The author is a literary architect. She builds meticulously, syllabically brick by brick, painting the backdrop, sketching the characters, scene by scene, so the reader sees the novelistic theme park, not the girders underpinning it. The reader feels the protagonist's asthma, fear, bravery, and reluctant persistence to learn who's committing murders in the midst of the gay community.
Francis Bacon, 1979
Francis Bacon, London 1979,
The Spectator, photo
© Dmitri Kasterine

The author is not one to flaunt her intelligence and knowledge, giving the story a natural feel. Nor does she belabor drollery. The humor is sly and understated, including makeup advice to Francis to "keep your powder dry." When Francis needs to ditch evidence, his Nan picks his pocket and says "Dear boy, leave everything to me." Francis comments about boys in the rough trade, "I'm not one to leave hard feelings behind."

London town is real, palpable. The description of the Blitz is riveting. What I know about the gay scene you could fit in a teacup, but it feels true. You may think this isn't the kind of world you'd inhabit, but it's impossible not to connect.

In the latter chapters, the emotional roller coaster moves from angst, to spookiness, terror, anger, vindication, sadness for one of the characters who made Francis' life miserable, and finally a feeling of satisfaction.

Who could ask for more?

Defy the heat. Fires of London is available 4 September from Mysterious Press.

5 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

I shall be ordering my copy of FIRES OF LONDON bright and early tomorrow! BTW, John's done it again. Check out this week's edition of WW.

Janice said...

Thank you so much!
A novel couldn't ask for a better send off.

Leigh Lundin said...

Congratulations, Janice! You'll have readers lining up Tuesday.

It's a good read, Fran. She paints the scenes well.

David Dean said...

Congrats, Janice, and best of luck. I'm looking forward to reading "Fires Of London."

David Edgerley Gates said...

Leigh (and Janice),
I remember a friend suggesting I go see a Bacon show at the Guggenheim in the early 60's, and I thought his stuff was both compelling and disturbing---I had no idea he was gay (your radar isn't that good at 17), and I don't know, anyway, how much that had to do with his painting.