Gents by Warwick Collins

20 Jun

Meet Ezekiel Murphy.

Needing work, he takes a job working as a toilet attendant at a men’s washroom in the London Underground. Working with two other men, Reynolds and Jason, he figures this will be just one more run of the mill job.

He is mistaken.

One day while cleaning the bathroom, he watches as two men leave a cubicle together. Another time, he watches as someone kneels on the ground while the other man stays standing.

Appalled, he asks Reynolds and Jason what is going on. “It’s the reptiles.” Jason says. Apparently the bathroom in which they work in is a popular spot for “cottaging” or gay sex. Many men cruise the washroom looking to get off.

What shocks Ez the most is that these are seemingly normal men. He observes one gentleman he saw in a cubicle with another meet up with his family. “Took your time,” the wife observes. He wonders if he should say anything; wonders if it’s his place.

The three men are dealt a further blow when they are given an ultimatum: cut down on the amount of gay cursing in the washroom or the London council will shut it down. Suddenly, the three men find themselves in between a rock and a hard place having to confront an enemy they know nothing about.

They decide to take matters into their own hands. They start to observe the “reptiles” and their habits; they start to fight back. But what are they fighting most?

Their own prejudices or the rights of others?

Gents may be a small novel but it packs a mean wallop. Clocking in at only 172 pages, many would under estimate the power of this slim volume. They would be unwise to do so. Gents take an in your face look at many issues that other writers would cheerfully avoid: homosexuality, washroom sex, cruising, races, culture, prejudice and racism.

Gents has so much power because it looks at all these issues and more in such brutal, unashamed honesty. You never feel for an instant that you are reading something that should be shocking or scandalous; though, looked at separately, many of the books subjects do indeed cause scandal.

Collins has also created some of the most likeable, wonderful characters I’ve ever encountered in literature today: Ezekiel, a West Indian immigrant worried about providing for his wife and son. Jason, the Rastafarian who has two wives. Reynolds, their supervisor, who tries to remain distant from their situation but can’t help getting drawn in.

These people breathe. I don’t think I can say it clearer than that; they are people I know, people I talk to every day. They are real and honest and true people. It takes a talented writer to create characters with such finesse; characters that I feel I’ve known for years. It takes not only a writer but a magician to create with such simplicity.

Gents is written in simple, precise words. You won’t find any purple prose here; because of the writing style, the issue is right there, out in the open, waiting for you to acknowledge it. Though the language is simple, the words have power. The book doesn’t take a political or social stance. It sets everything on the table for you to read and makes no judgments.

Though many would argue that this is a book about homosexuality, it isn’t. This is a book about people who are forced to confront something within themselves and make a decision that affects others. It’s not about gay cruising. It’s about the power of the human heart when you are asked to confront something you don’t understand.

Gents is a treat, a joy and a pleasure. I am reading it again for the second time. I was moved, swayed and held by the power of Collins words and Gents is a novel that will haunt me for some time to come.






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