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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Book review: Dirty White Boy - Tales of Soho

Posted in: Books
By David Herkt - 22nd February 2010

Dirty White Boy: Tales of Soho

By Clayton Littlewood, published by Cleis Press

Order online through Amazon Books

'What's that book?' he asked, nodding towards the bedside table, as we made the bed.

'Book for review. Gay book.'

'Dirty White Boy. Tales of Soho. It even looks gay. You'd think after all these years we'd have moved beyond the colour pink. What's it like?'

I sighed audibly, but partners are partners.

'Well to its credit, I read it through in two sessions. Elton John, according to some PR material I found on the Internet, allegedly read it through in one go, but Elton either has a very fast reading speed orhe was exaggerating. So you could say it was compulsively readable...'

'You sound doubtful...'

'No, I'm not. You could stick 'compulsively readable' on the cover with my name under it and I'd stand by the statement.'

'OK... if you say so.'

'Anyway, let's back-track. What's the book about? It's about gay life in Soho, in London, in 2006 and 2007. It is written by Clayton Littlewood, who at the time was part-owner of an upmarket designer clothing store on the corner of Old Compton and Dean Streetscalled Dirty White Boy – thus the title. The book started off life as his MySpace blog...'

'I hate the word blog.'

'So do I. Big-time. It always makes me think of oversize people and computing, which is not a good combination. We didn't have to invent 'blog' either. There are already perfectly serviceable words like journal, log, or diary that could do.'

'Do you want to concentrate on the bed for a second. There are wrinkles.'

Clayton Littlewood's Soho shop
'Anyway, Dirty White Boy is the book-version of Clayton's MySpace blog. It is just a straight compilation. I guess it is like one of those historic diaries like Samuel Pepys' or Virginia Woolf's. And it is great because of this day-to-day immediacy.You get to find out what it is like running a poncy designer-clothing store in a gay area in London with a heterosexual brothel upstairs,semi-famous customers, insane street-people wandering in, male hookers, shallow rich gay customers, shoplifters, underwear fetishists, gaggles of Brazilian queens, and a lot of etceteras. You could probably even find hints on how to sell clothing to gay men, if you were so inclined.'

'Sounds great!'

'Generally it is, except...'

'I was waiting for that 'except'...'

'Except you feel that Clayton has embellished the lily, so to speak. It begins OK and you can somehow feel that this is really day-to-day life in one of Europe's most historic gay precincts – and it is fascinating -but by the end everything somehow feels a little false. It is like Clayton gets an audience and suddenly he starts performing for them. One particular character - a Polari speaking queen with a sob-sister back-story – feels really fake to me and much tampered with in an authorial sense but weirdly that is the story the reviewers love, all wringing their hands carrying on about 'authenticity' and 'touching'.'

'You just sound bitter.'

'Probably, it's my character. But you can see how it happens. Clayton starts a little MySpace project, it starts getting successful. He gets a gushy audience. The lily gets gilded. But really he is best on the minutiae and the ordinary things of life. The day-to-day stuff. He has a good eye. His insights are valuable. He's wry and human. He's very likable. He's intelligent. What is happening in front of him is fun. He doesn't need to up the volume on the drama, really.'

'So you'd recommend it?'

'Generally, I'd say yes. You could do a lot worse. Good birthday pressie for a smart gay boy. Good read for yourself. Funny. Observant. Gives a sense of gay history without being preachy. Compulsively readable.'

'Sounds enjoyable. Cup of tea before bed?'

'Yes, please.'

David Herkt - 22nd February 2010

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