by Kenneth Martin
Published by Chapman & Hall, London (first edition)
99 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
February 11, 1995.
Aubade by Kenneth Martin (who was born in Belfast in 1939) is not great art but is compelling in showing a young man breaking through homophobia to love in a very repressive social climate (Northern Ireland of the mid-1950s).
Some of the dialog is stilted (quite unlike anyone’s speech), but that somehow fits the awkwardness the characters feel. The characters are plausible (though in his introduction Martin notes that he deracinated himself and his family and raised them to lower middle class). I was startled that someone 16 thought so much about how he would look back on things. Since he wrote the novel at 16 (“I wrote Aubade in five weeks the summer I left school, and finished it six weeks before my seventeenth birthday”; it was first published in 1957), I have to believe he really did!
The cruelty to his mother and his would-be girlfriend (he is disgusted by fucking her and adds insult to injury) are believable. Rather than tides of emotion, the novel economically lays out the situation inside and outside the narrator’s head and proceeds in a classical, nearly abstract manner, wrapping up all the ends very tightly.
Thirty years later, Martin oddly characterized Aubade as “naturalistic.” This is followed by this affirmation of the rightness of his desires:
I know one of the reasons I survived: the most salient thing about me, even more important than the imperative to be a writer, was that I was attracted to other men. Against all the evidence, I learned to trust my own feelings and my own judgments, even as they led me through multiple disasters. Waywardly, sometimes ashamedly, I chose to be who I was.
Martin has a blog at https://kennethmartinwriter.com.
11 February 1995
©2005, 2016, Stephen O. Murray