“I had a good childhood. My father died when I was twelve. My mother went to bed early. I was an only child.”
These are the opening lines of Maskeblomstfamilien, a title which can be translated as The Figwort Family, but which can be interpreted in several ways, and holds more than one meaning. The plants and flowers of the Figwort Family usually have large leaves that cover up and blanket the ground. The flowers are often without scent, but if they do smell, it’s more of an unpleasant stench than a refreshing smell. Foxglove, and other flowers in the Digitalis family, which is a subgroup of the Figwort family, are all poisonous.
In Norwegian, the title can also be broken into three – maske means mask, blomstmeans flower and familien means the family. Every significant person in this novel are not entirely as they appear at first, they all wear masks. The Greek tragedy ofOedipus also plays a central part in the last third of the novel, which is in itself structured as a classical tragedy in three acts. The flower is Adrian, the protagonist, who, considering the environment in which he is raised, unsurprisingly grows up to be a deeply twisted individual. The Wang family, his family, are not supportive or nurturing, and they all have dark secrets.
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When I was about 18, I read Spanbauer’s The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon. I was amazed, moved and startled, but I was at an impressionable age. Since then, I’ve read his other books with mounting embarrassment, and have never had the heart to revisit the one that got me started. I suspect it might be every bit as self-consciously ‘shocking’ and pretentious as his most recent effort.
Now Is The Hour tells the story of Rigby John Klusener. Just writing that is enough to make me want to throw myself off the roof. This is a Tom Spanbauer novel, so of course Rigby John is trapped in a stifling environment where he struggles to be understood (in his case a devout Catholic household in 1960s rural Idaho), of course has sexual awakenings with preternaturally attractive Mexicans and a cross-dressing American Indian, and of course flees to San Francisco to ‘find himself’. And yes, all of this is every bit as tiresome and affected as it sounds. The book is so explicitly gay and graphically sexual, that that’s all it is. In Spanbauer’s world, sexuality isn’t a part of people, it’s all people are.
And the writing! Give me strength. Main characters break down in paralysing fits of laughter at inappropriate moments (as the reader, you miss the joke), one chapter extols the virtue of the word ‘fuck’ (for fuck’s sake), and if you stripped out all the repetition of particular phrases (that are clearly meant to be deep and meaningful) the book would be 50 pages shorter.
Long passages are given over to descriptions of Rigby John masturbating, which is appropriate given that this book is a load of wank.