Thursday, May 08, 2008

Oscar Wilde by Richard Canning

Richard Canning
Oscar Wilde

Published by Hesperus Press

Reviewed by Karl Barry

If some people aren’t familiar with Oscar Wilde’s literary works, they will be more likely to know about the man himself. Tried and convicted for “gross indecency” in 1895, the scandal this fantastic personality caused over a hundred years ago still has the ability to shock today. Eminent scholar Richard Canning has provided an intentionally short account of Wilde’s life in Hesperus Press’ new ‘Brief Lives’ series. The book covers details of the dandy’s upbringing, education, relationships, sexual awakening and professional life as well as a contextualization of his major literary works. Canning is quick to point out where there are gaps in historical records about his life or conflicting accounts about Wilde. However, he provides reasonable assumptions and picks up on important clues which can lead you to fill in the missing pieces. Eloquently told, reading the details of Wilde’s life becomes a thrilling experience where you are hurtling towards an inevitably tragic conclusion.

It’s impressive that a personality so vibrant and witty can still burn brightly after so much time. Canning notes how the entertaining and/or infuriating presence of the man himself is marked by the large body of literary work which was inspired by Wilde’s notoriously sharp tongue. Of course, what’s most striking about the man is his stalwart belief in the validity of gay love despite the intense pressure from the society around him to hide his passion or simply flee from persecution. The book is an admirable testament to Wilde’s refusal to feel ashamed. Although I was familiar with the most pertinent facts about Wilde’s life before reading this short biography, I now have a more essential understanding of one of the most important gay figures in history. Moreover, Canning’s wonderfully succinct and intelligent telling of Wilde’s life makes me hungry to go back to the literary writing itself.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Review: Trunks

By Bruno Gmunder Verlag

Published by Hothouse

Reviewed by Paul Kane

What we have here is an attractive beast, or perhaps a parade of them: a book of erotic photographs with a swimwear apparel theme. There are 28 models represented - all sturdily muscular young men - and no more than 5 shots of each. In the first shot (or shots) the model wears trunks, a skimpy T-shirt, or is caped in a towel; in later shots he is stark bollocks naked. So we, as privileged viewers, are afforded an opportunity to 'see everything' (to use the Patrick Stewart parlance, as plied in Extras), and in particular are given the chance to see how each model measures up. Are the assets on show below the waist quite as brobdingnagian (a much underused word, this) as the biceps (etc.) above? While there are some disappointments, these are, you’ll be pleased to know, few in number. Perhaps the best-endowed here is a young man named Justin Gemini; his first name (the punch line to a well-known joke) is, one assumes, an unintentional irony.
There are a couple of niggling aspects to the book. Some of the model’s facial expressions are just a teensy-weensy bit farcical. As they manfully strain for that deadly, smouldering intensity it can look rather as though they are puzzling over a maths problem, poor dears, or wondering what to have for tea. Also, the photographer (or, who knows, photographers) is not credited, which is a pity. Yet this is to nitpick. If you like men with statuesque contours, their flesh tanned, oiled and occasionally ornamented with tattoos, you will enjoy this book very much.

Trunks is probably best seen as a bright, vibrant box of eye candy; and smooth hard candy at that, as intimated. And while its visual delights are not as sublimely erotic as, let’s say, the wondrous Sylvie Guillem performing Russell Maliphant’s ‘Two’, it is ideal for a few idle, wanton hours of dolce far niente. A word of warning, though: over-indulgence may rot your teeth!
Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at