The Road to London is three stories in one. The central narrative follows the growth of a boy's conscience, who has no name, personality and sexuality from the very early stages, where events, now memories that did not seem to be important, like stopping for a pee with a friend as a child, are seen through the impact they will have in the boy's life and development. When he first falls in love, it is with a girl, Rachael, but the pain he suffers from loving when still a very young child makes him transfer his affections to his best friend, Darren, who is also his competitor in the hierarchy of his group of friends. When Darren, 'usurps' the boy, this boy starts becoming sexually submissive. After trying to have straight relationships with girls later in life, his Latin teacher reveals to him that he is gay, and he falls in love with his best friend, Pat, but when he finally finds the courage to tell him what he feels, he is beaten up and bullied for years. He will then live a life in self denial, which does not seem to end. The second narrative though, comes from the future of the boy's life, and it is only through this that we can find a solution to the boy's predicament. It comes in a very original format, through mental letters 'written' in a gay night club in London and addressed to his future love, called My Dear, who mirrors Pat in many ways, reflecting his love story with Pat. This time, the bullying is different, My Dear, despite the name, is often cruel, and we will only discover why at the very end. The third narrative is written in the present tense, and it is made up of dreams, lies and hallucinations (when the boy starts using drugs). This is a clever move, as in a story which seems realistic, this third narrative provides symbolism and poetry, and explains in a mystical way the subconscious of the boy. The three narratives intertwine throughout the novel till the end, where everything changes, and we have My dear's responses to the boy's letters in the club, but we also find that dreams have now taken the place of reality, that part of the narrative is the story of Seb White, who speaks from beyond the grave, after dying as a consequence of being bullied for being gay. The very last part moves away from first (even second as we sometimes find) person narration into a third person narrator, which is not a person, but the universe itself, and the very end is just the beginning of a long dream of love.
The social context is both specific and universal: the main narrative takes place in Italy (with school trips to France, and Austria) at an uncertain time. We can be sure that it is in the recent past, as it is interspersed with songs by Pink Floyd and Madonna, but the comment on 'contemporary music... mainly cheesy pop' makes us think it might be in the late 1990s or early 1990s. The city, Milan, becomes a universal metropolis called 'the grey city' where homophobia is the norm and where people live 'grey lives', so, it could be any place in the world where discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is rife. The letters to My Dear, instead, talk of a club in London, more seen as a magic place where the boy could be himself than a real place. The final scenes move to the sphere of the universe, the stars, the moon and after life. Despite being fantastical in many ways, there is a form of realism in describing the social context. What this novel is concerned about is not the geography of places, but how the context is seen through the consciousness of the protagonist, which offers a very introspective vision of social issues of discrimination and intolerance.
The writing style is almost impossible to describe, as I do not think anything like has ever been written. Apart from the seamless mixing of different narratives already described, the novel uses poetry and music quite frequently, especially when the situation becomes emotional, important and tense. In fact, the very experience of love-making is described through a poem. Every chapter starts with a poem or a song, from Milton to 'Perle' to Jaque Brel and Rimbaud, and the poems reflect the theme and symbols in the chapter. The prose moves from funny moments, with a good dosage of swear words, which make the characters believable, into poetic prose rich in symbolism and colours. In fact, every chapter is dominated by one or two colours, apart from the last ones, where light explodes in all the colours of the rainbow. The two main characters have no real name, the others just a first name, only Seb White, who is, in a very complex and unexpected way, the key to the boy's happiness has a name and surname, and even here, we can see a reference to the first Christian Martyr and to the colour white, which of course, is a sum of all colours. The style of this novel plays with a mixture of realism and symbolism that makes me describe it as surrealist', a bit like a painting by Salvador Dali, where things appear to be drawn from the real world, but have much more vivid colours, are in the wrong places and their shapes are warped.
This novel has been an eye-opener for me: it looks at the world from a perspective that I had never considered, just in between the conscious and the subconscious, between the individual and the universal. It mixes genres, from young adult, to coming out, bildungsroman, romance, fiction, fantasy with an ease I had not thought possible. There are extremely beautiful passages in this novel, yet the harsh reality of discrimination is always there not just as a reminder, but, ironically, to create the very beauty of its words. Instead of looking at psychology with a rational mind, this book looks at it from a symbolic perspective, which is why it explores both the conscious and the unconscious, both reality and dreams.
Book Reviewed by Billy Best
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