BOOKS: The Minotaur Lurking in the Shadows of Sixties London the Long Firm by Jake Arnott Sceptre Pounds 10
Tague, John, The Independent (London, England)
With his first novel, Jake Arnott has already become a minor cause celebre in the literary world. The obvious question is, then: does his novel, The Long Firm, live up to the hype? It's a pleasure to say that it does. In fact, I can go further: this gangster novel set (mainly) in Sixties London is one of the smartest, funniest and original novels you will read all year. It is a gloriously accomplished re-creation of the city in the era of the Kray twins, when aristocratic politicians mixed freely with gangsters, rent boys and actresses of dubious repute in a decadent demi monde. Arnott is quite brilliant at excavating the cultural minutiae of the time to bring the period vividly to life: a parade of "faces" from the day meander across these pages - including Tom Driberg MP, the corrupt landlord Rachman, Jack "the Hat" McVitie - and you can almost smell the Brylcreem, cigarette smoke and expensive gin.
But there's more to The Long Firm than well-observed cultural reanimation. Into this most macho of literary forms, Arnott slyly injects a camp and playful sensibility. The central character is the forbidding figure of Harry Starks, a homosexual gang boss who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ronnie Kray. Starks, notorious for his sadism, his manic depression, his love of young boys and the music of Judy Garland, is a compelling figure whose charm and ruthlessness pulls all sorts of characters into his dangerous orbit.
The novel describes the trajectory of Harry's life from the early 1960s to 1979, but it is divided into five successive sections, each narrated by a different character. It is a structure that is elegantly labyrinthine: Harry might be central to the text but remains elusive and enigmatic throughout, a Minotaur lurking forever in the shadows. Arnott is in his element as he re-creates the multi-faceted social and cultural circles of pre-swinging London. There's a Diana Dors- esque blonde actress whose stuttering career occasionally crosses into prostitution; or the corrupt, homosexual Tory politician Lord Thursby, recently elevated to the House of Lords but whose hunger for easy cash leads him to accept Harry's dubious favours with predictably unfortunate consequences. Only …
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Publication information: Article title: BOOKS: The Minotaur Lurking in the Shadows of Sixties London the Long Firm by Jake Arnott Sceptre Pounds 10. Contributors: Tague, John - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 11, 1999. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.