Dog Horn Publishing, 2012
Tim and his partner run a gay B & B in Edinburgh. Their clients are a colourful group of people who could be described as marginalised by society, but they are portrayed simply as accepted and acceptable to their hosts and to their companions. When two young Slovakian men, Lukas and Claudio, come to stay at the B & B, the presumptions of both the proprietors and the guests about the sexual orientation of the new arrivals are challenged. The young men act like a couple, yet they insist they are neither lovers, nor gay.
This novel examines the phenomenon of labelling from an unconventional viewpoint since its narrator, Tim, could be all-too easily pigeon-holed as a disabled, camp, gay man whose assumptions and attitudes are driven by the experiences that have formed those identities. Tim suffers from a rather stereotypically extreme phallocentricity which predisposes him to disparage heterosexuals.
In the Mirror, a Monster is also deeply concerned with narrative and voice. The narrator appears to have several voices, which suggests that ideas of a single identity may easily be subverted. The author’s use of these complex, often contradictory voices renders Tim as a very human, drunken, unreliable narrator.
Aye, but it just don’t follow. I don’t see the point, not in anything or any one around me. I despair of my abi-lilly-ties, of my cock-nitive functions. Of my own abstruseness, my own debasicality-basically; debased, destroyed, of my licensed licentiousness.
He also appears to be ‘talking back’ to someone else, a man from his past, significantly called Mr Dedalus, who broke his heart. He remembers a trip round the world with this man, who apparently tried to introduce him to Joyce’s Ulysses. Aptly then, the word-play in Tim’s narration, such as in the example above, echoes Joyce’s radically innovative writing style.
Tim also self-consciously hinders the narrative progression of the story to such an extent that the reader may feel manipulated. It is almost as if, having caught the reader’s attention, the narrator holds on to it for longer than necessary. Tim just loves having the reader’s attention – an audience – and subverts the narrative in order to keep it.
This desire for attention may reflect the fact that disabled people are often denied a voice – or agency – within society. Here the author and the narrator are complicit in ensuring that this person’s voice will be heard.
Over the course of the narrative and despite exhortations to come out by almost all of the residents of the B & B, the Slovaks insist that they are not gay, claiming to use hotels frequented by gays because of their hatred of traditional masculine roles and attitudes. They shun the brand of machismo bred in their home country; however, they also harbour a secret which binds them to each other in a way that none of the other characters can imagine.
When the dénouement is finally reached, the real nature of the Slovaks’ friendship is revealed, and their revulsion of machismo is shown to be rooted in experience. However, one revelation leads to another which threatens to destroy their bond forever, and in its turn prompts the uncovering of another deeply held secret, held from Tim by his able-bodied partner.
This novel is both playful and serious in its investigation of identity and sexuality, putting Tim’s camp self-irony to effective use in lightening the often painful memories of his life as a young, able-bodied and sexually active person. Overall, In the Mirror a Monster questions the wisdom in seeking out hidden identities, truths or stories which may be too painful to tell.