Boys' Own Stories; Fiction Has Largely Ignored the Trials of Young Male Sexuality - until Now
Sexton, David, The Evening Standard (London, England)
Byline: DAVID SEXTON
DOING IT by Melvin Burgess (Andersen Press, u12.99) THE Children's Laureate, Anne Fine, furiously denounced this novel for teenagers two months before it was due to be published. She called it a "grubby book, which demeans both young women and young men", "as effective a form of sexual bullying as any hardcore porno mag" and "grubby". She took care to quote as many filthy bits as possible - the boy who describes having sex with his drama teacher as "me lying down staring up at Miss Young's minge while she gives me a blow job"; the boy who announces "tits and minge are actually very important things to me in a girlfriend"; the boy who says of his erection "I could have harpooned a walrus with it", and so on.
Anne Fine concluded by saying that the book's publishers should be so deeply ashamed of themselves that they should resign and the book itself should be pulped. "No girl or young woman should ever have to read these vile, disgusting musings about themselves.
"The publishers may claim they are the real thoughts of young men. But would they be pushing the ignorant, upsetting views of four racists, or four anti-Semites on the grounds these foul, deluded people really think this way?
No, they would not."
Burgess's publishers retorted that Doing It is "a very good book", and promptly brought the publication date forward to 1 May. Quite right, too.
Anybody who takes the trouble to read the book, rather than just recoil from the smutty quotes, will find that it is a genuinely moral work of fiction about a subject - the confusions, joys and terrors of adolescent male sexuality - rarely addressed with any such comprehension or sympathy. There is now an enormous amount of sedulous fiction for teenage girls. It's about time the other half got a shout too.
Three sixth-form boys, presumably 17, are contemplating their chances of "doing it" at last. Dino, Ben and John talk knowingly and muckily about sex.
The novel opens with them playing the game where you have to choose between the most revolting prospect to shag - the ugliest girl in school "or else that homeless woman who begs spare change outside Cramner's bakers".
"Can I shag her from behind?" asks Ben hopefully. "No, from the front. With the lights on. Snogging and everything.
And you have to do oral sex on her, too," orders Jonathon.
Yuck? But over the next 300 pages, Burgess succeeds in making you care about these boys and their efforts to cope with an experience they are too young to understand well. All three, you realise, are actually decent, even nice, boys, despite their dirty talk and the appalling scrapes they get themselves into. …