Sunday, January 22, 2017
THIN ICE- Compton MacKenzie
" Perhaps it was strange that George Gaymer should have become a friend of Henry Fortescue at Oxford in the last years of the nineteenth century, Politically they were poles apart. Henry, already President of the Union, had a brilliant future before him; George was goodhearted but mediocre. Above all, Henry was homosexual; George was not yet George's loyal friendship stood many tests across more than forty years, and was reliable when that of Henry's own kind proves transitory or even treacherous.
Absorbed in Eastern politics and Empire problems, and ambitious to reach the heights in politics, Henry suppressed his homosexual inclinations...as he had no intention of walking on thin ice... Thus for years after he got into Parliament , he was caution incarnate. But his failure to gain Cabinet office was so bitter a disappointment that, in search of some anodyne, he was tempted to throw caution to the winds."
This is the story of a forty year friendship covering off many of the momentous events of the early 20th century. Both protagonists are elites, men of independent wealth who can live life as they please.
When Henry is overlooked for Cabinet due to deals done within political parties he lets a life time of discretion slip and begins to leave himself exposed leading his homosexual life style. At this time leading a homosexual life style left you open to serious criminal sanction and more particularly blackmail.
There is a statistic quoted in the book, validity not known, that at this time as many as a third of male suicides could be attributed to blackmailing over sexual preference, horrific if even remotely true. The police were complicit, hounding and entrapping men with a vigor only comparable to the modern day fixation with speeding.
All down the years George worries about and protects his friend as as best he can without ever understanding Henry in the choice's he makes even when he is assaulted and blackmailed.
Although this is a lovely novel of friendship it is all so a very good social document of the between the wars period. The two friends travel often and the observations on how the "Empire" treated its less than white subjects is appalling and when India rose up they were surprised!
I really enjoyed this, it's a short 188 pages but there's much packed in.