Another book read for for Kaggsysbookishramblings and LizzySiddal’s “Read Indies month“ and this one is independently published by the author, after his success with his Christmas and Silver Jubilee story collections at the end of last year. As a book featuring gay central characters and a setting in Manchester’s gay quarter (featuring the transgender memorial), it also fits in to LGBTQIA+ History Month. It was impossible to resist buying it in January this year and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Paul Magrs – “Hunky Dory”

(28 January 2021 with token from Ali)

Paul is known as a fantasy or magic realist novelist, but he’s published the odd non-magical book in his time and this is one of them. I always enjoyed the realist elements in his books and so thoroughly enjoyed this one. There’s only one peculiar interlude, which you could put down to the Italian sun!

We have Dodie and her rackety mum Elena as the central characters – Elena has been an alternative, brassy figure for years and Dodie is much more reticent and plain – but she does have an inner life and of course deserves her chance at happiness. The book opens with Dodie’s dad’s sudden death and in the year that’s covered by the book she must run the cafe he founded and try to rebuild her life. Elena seems to go on as normal after some months of decline, getting involved in community activism, her creative writing MA and a little light kidnapping and bondage, as you do.

Dodies’s horizons are expanded when she meets Ian, who’s asked to set up a book and comics stall in the cafe, and Oliver from the writing course, but she also meets a wonderful eccentric novelist, Emmy, at a fantasy convention who models the acceptable way to write one of the new kinds of sci fi and fantasy, which seems to have split into extreme violence on one side and peculiar cross-species sex on the other (this issue is interrogated by other characters in other places and gives an interesting depth to the book) and essentially she reinvents her own self and takes back the power in her relationships. Ian also has his horizons broadened but still manages to hold his own, rising to the occasion and maintaining the balance with his new boyfriend. There are some wincey scenes with Elena camping it up to draw in Dodie’s new gay friend and get him on her side, but Elena’s also a great character with her gin and her ability to calm down (or foment) a public gathering.

There’s a marvellous cast of side characters, no one perfect, some a little grubby around the edges, realistic, grey and a bit flabby here and there, from stroppy cafe worker Andrea to Ian’s ex Warren with his secret side and his knitting, a naughty professor and a cuddly academic. The world of creative writing classes and (genre) publishing is gently and expertly skewered – we know Oliver is thinking of going to the bad when he abandons his “silly” book (which sounds very like Magrs’ Mars Trilogy) to go all macho and violent in his novel.

Most of the book is set in Levenshulme, with excursions into the excitement of the Canal Steet gay quarter, and is an affectionate portrait f a suburb in transition. There are kidnaps and library closure vigils, cruises and cats (I’m glad to report all the cats in the book remain OK) in a long and satisfying novel of huge warmth in which most of the characters change and grow. There’s even a shout-out to Iris Murdoch! Only one thing would have made it more-than-perfect, and that would have been an encounter with a completely tattooed man when some characters went over to Newcastle, but you can’t have everything, right …?!

A great, fun read which I will re-read and which is a great addition to Paul’s marvellous and un-genre-definable oeuvre.