Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (NTTVBG – Book Five)

Hello and welcome to the fifth Not The TV Book Group here at Savidge Reads where I will be hosting my second, and last (for this series), discussion of the latest NTTVBG choice ‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett along with Lynne of Dovegreyreader, Kim of Reading Matters and Kirsty of Other Stories who have joined me, but where oh where are we, I hear you cry. Well this time rather than invade and old house of mine from the past and kick out the new owners, I have decided to bring you to my abode situated in the jewel (but I would think so) of South London…

Yes you are in Tooting Broadway!!! I was going to try and actually find the Skin Lane of the book but then as you will know, if you have read it, it’s not so easy to find in this day and age. However Mr. F our main protagonist was from an area of South London that isn’t very far away from where you find yourself today. So without further ado grab a seat on the sofa, The Converted One will be handing out cups of tea and various sweet delights throughout the day, and let’s get discussing ‘Skin Lane’ a novel that I thought was really rather remarkable.

I should really start with why I put this book forward, in part it was because it had been languishing on my shelf for sometime yet I had been intrigued by it, I had been meaning (and being endlessly recommended) to read Neil Bartlett for some time, its very different in genre from the rest of the books. I also wanted to choose a book that was out of the ordinary for readers, something I didn’t think many people would have read but maybe should have. I don’t want to say controversial because as soon as I see that in a review of a book I switch off, and if I hear someone say they read a book ‘because it’s meant to be controversial’ they go down in my estimation ever so slightly. ‘Skin Lane’ isn’t controversial, yes it’s dark, yes it has some rather disturbing themes and yes the plot runs around a man obsessed with another man, shocking I know, but its so much more than that… well I thought so.  

Really this is the tale of a turning point in the life of Mr. F (don’t you just want to read more because of the mystery behind the name?) who leads an almost abnormally routine life style. He gets up, gets ready, goes to work, does his job, goes home, baths, goes to bed, gets up, gets ready… you get the gist. Only he does this all to a routine based on precision of the exact times of all his movements every day of his life, he even picks up the paper at the same time each day. You are aware that you are in the company of a rather unusual yet seemingly normal fellow. Until you learn of the dreams Mr. F is having.

Dreams seems the wrong word initially as to you or I these could be deemed nightmares. During his deepest sleeps Mr F starts watching himself, as if in a film, coming into his house, going through his routine until he goes to the bathroom to find a naked young man brutally, and fatally, tied up. The worse thing is, after having no idea who this male is; he ends up meeting the man he dreams of and really the story goes on from there. Only there is so much more to it and surrounding it.

I can imagine people reading that synopsis will either think ‘oh no not my cup of tea at all, I am not reading that’ or think this could be ‘one of those throwaway thrillers’ or even label it ‘a gay book’ and if that’s the case you would be missing out on an amazing book. Neil Bartlett takes you into the mind of a man who goes from knowing nothing about love to the extremes of obsession and desire he has no concept of and no way of dealing with.

It’s that journey, along with the cleverly woven storyline, the historical backdrop of the situation of homosexuality at that time and the wonderful voice of Bartlett’s (I actually felt as if the author was in the room telling me this tale the whole way through) that gives the book a pace and fatalism (and also some very black humour) that means you can’t stop reading. It all also leads you to an ending that has you on the edge of your seat before pulling the biggest shocker which isn’t the horror you were expecting, though it does get very dark and very tense, but the biggest shock of all, a total emotionally winding punch to you the dear reader. I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often.

I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless. I shall simply say if you haven’t read it then do so, I think this may very swiftly now be placed in my top 40 books of all time.

Right, enough of me whittling on, over to you…


Filed under Books of 2010, Neil Bartlett, Not The TV Book Group, Review, Serpent's Tail

83 responses to “Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (NTTVBG – Book Five)

  1. Oh, I really don’t want to be the first one to post on here because I didn’t end up finishing the book! My thoughts will post in a couple of hours but I just couldn’t get into it and it was making me uncomfortable to the point that I didn’t want to continue. It certainly wasn’t the gay theme because I don’t have any issue with that and it wasn’t very strong at the point I stopped anyway. It was the darkness and the undertones of violence and violation (especially the Thomas and Christ painting scene). I also really disliked the whole fur shop thing as it’s rather barbaric.

    Overall, I think that it wasn’t a good fit for me but also that this was bad timing as I’ve had some sad news this week and needed my reading to be a more uplifting escape. (I switched to I Capture the Castle!)

    One thing I would love to hear from other readers is what what they thought of Bartlett’s non-traditional writing style — what with starting a sentence at the end of a paragraph and then restarting it at the start of the next. I thought it felt conversational but strange.

    Will The Converted One still let me have some tea or am I going to be shunned for not finishing the book? 😉

    • Hahahaha I secretly at my real face to face book group get slightly narked when people don’t finish the book as I try even if I am hating it because books can win me over in the end. If I have loathed one, or even just not liked it very much I am normally won over in a weird way the more I hear about people talk about it.

      I don’t get narked on here though and you have special extenuating (thats so not a real word is it?) circumstances – you should have had an email of me, though I do seem to be going awol or in spam at the moment.

      I do think books are about timing. It’s weird you mentioned the fur I didn’t really think about it, I was so embedded in the time I just accepted it as the way it was, but I am sure Bartlett was making a point there somewhere. I shall mull that over a bit.

  2. ana

    Kristen, am I pleased to see you here first!! Settled on the sofa, tea cup in hand ready for a discussion. You’ve reminded me already of the amazing scene in the National Gallery where Mr F considers the impact of “The Incredulity of St Thomas”. Such a powerful moment in the story. Is it from that time on he begins to stare, to look and to be awakened? I wonder what others make of that incident?

    I did persevere to the end, but did you hear me breathe a relieved sigh when the tale made a sideways step to the dalliance between young Mr S and Christine? I had been alarmed by where the narrator was taking us, somewhere so dark and shocking that I thought I couldn’t possibly go. I was sorely in need of a change of pace and decided that I would keep reading after all, convinced that Simon would have chosen wisely realising the delicate constitutions of some of his readers.

    Back to breathing normally I plunged onwards and only popped up for air occasionally after that.

    Thought the frame of the Beauty and the Beast tale was effective, adding richness and resonance as was the narrator’s voice, foreshadowing action and guiding our responses.

    Kristen you are so right about the barbarism of the fur trade. Don’t you think Bartlett creates so much tension by his descriptions of the implements of the trade and the death? Dead beasts everywhere and the linking of the fur coats to passion and seduction.

    Great counterpoint to the historical material about the time, in the days just preceding legislation to decriminalise homosexuality. Isn’t it shocking to realise how recently this was set?

    Shall take another breath and strengthen myself with a sweet bun or two. So generous with the catering!! Is that green tea you have there? No sugar though, thanks

    • Ana … now I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t continue! Perhaps I will pick it back up later when I’m in a better mood for it.

      The fur trade descriptions were definitely something — the part where he was tossing the “fur corpses” at Beauty while he was first learning. It was such a callous way to treat something that was once alive. And when Mr. F cut himself with the implement that he used to dismantle the skins of so many creatures … it just turned my stomach. And yet we were led to picture the men who used the coats as currency and the women who used them as symbols of devotion. So disturbing.

      I definitely need something sweet now too … a scone for me please and a bit more tea.

      • ana

        Kristen, you’re absolutely right. This book needs the appropriate mood. You will be better guided I am sure by some of the comments that will follow when the UK is awake and contributing their ideas. You can expect a thorough going over of its merits.

        In the meantime we should fortify ourselves with the tempting delicacies , all so fresh and just us here to tuck in!!! No one will have to know! [Hmm hmm]

      • Hahaha Ana I am very touched you think I would choose wisely based on my readership but in truth I had no idea where this might go as I had never read it, or Bartlett before. That was one of the idea’s behind NTTVBG – having no idea if these books would be hits, misses, great as a solo read or not as a book group read it was all out there.

        I am pleased you had a mini me somewhere on your shoulder, or in your head saying ‘go on, go on’ as I think that whether you were fine, anti or indifferent to the darkness when you finish the book its all been worth it for the end result and the experience.

  3. gaskella

    It was a strange world that we were taken into, fascinating in a way that doesn’t fit with our modern anti-fur sensibilities. The sense that fur coats = sex seemed to pervade the book. Mr F may have been immune initially, but even he had an almost sybaritic feel for the fur. Creepy and compelling.

    I thought the tension mounted brilliantly. Bartlett’s knowing way of hinting what may come next really made your sense of anticipation rise and then on occasions totally wrong-footing you.

    I’d be interested to see if anyone had a grain of sympathy for Mr F, and I thought that Beauty was a perfect Beast!

    • I wanted to bring that theme up actually in the above post but felt I was going on too long, I may actually have to do another post on this book at some point so remarkable I found it. Beauty… wasn’t he actually really hideous, I kind of wanted him to get the ending that we all thought was coming and then didn’t! Am I alone in this?

  4. ana

    Lots of sympathy for him from this reader. He works with dead animal skins, caressing them professionally but never having contact with a living breathing human. All the talk of “choice of skin” and so on, So poignant.

    • Sympathy for Mr F yes and weirdly I could understand why he kept going back to the dreams, he wanted clarity, I think he wanted to search for who it was so he knew it was a flasehood and unimaginable… at first!

      I also thought that he was a man time didnt touch, nor did people and I felt sympathetic to that, he had these secret desires which were (and still are, we haven’t moved on as much as we might like to think despite civil partnerships etc) totally forbidden and in some countries are still illegal. I found that quite affecting.

  5. Pingback: NTTVBG #5: Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett » Other Stories

  6. Well I too am going to have to admit my failure with this book 😦 and all my own fault. I got off to a flying start and on the back of some really challenging, uncomfortable reads lately so thought I’d be fine but quite out of the blue all that resilience deserted me. Each time I picked it up my heart sank… Perhaps sometimes life and work and just dealing with so much of other people’s angst does impact and for the last few weeks I’ve needed gentle reading. So big apologies Simon but I’m going to be around and joining in all day just the same which might work quite well…I can ask questions!
    My first is that I was feeling hugely sad and sorry for Mr F and I’m wondering would I have kept that empathy throughout the book or might my sympathies have shifted… I had a feeling I was going to become very unsettled but had Neil Bartlett done enough to keep me on Mr F’s side inthose early pages?

    • I felt the same way each time I knew I needed to read more of this book. I actually had a sense of relief when I decided to stop reading it.

      I was definitely moving away from any sympathy for Mr. F at the point I stopped reading.

    • Inteersting question Lynne and I think what was so powerful for me with this book (anyone else think this too?) was that Bartlett set seeds in your mind which flourised dark flowers and thoughts and let you go along with them and then suddently took you to the point you though was coming and then pulled the rug completely from under you by taking it somewhere else and to an emotional peak which almost made me cry!

  7. PS I forgot to say how lovely to be in Tooting! My dad was born there and my grandad used to be a policeman there doing point duty on the Broadway before anyone thought of traffic lights. My dad, aged 4 used to walk up there with my grandad’s lunch pail and a can of tea!

    • You see Lynne, I have brought you to Tooting and previously before the NTTVBG taken you on that virtual trip back to Mitcham Common, if it gets sunny maybe we could all take a picnic out there later.

      By the way, your Grandad must have had a heck of a job that cross junction is hellish it now has five sets of traffic lights!

  8. Morning Simon, The Converted One, and everyone else! A beautiful sunny Sunday, and do you mind if I have a scone?

    Now, I’m really sorry to admit this, but I had to abandon the Skin Lane ship part way through. It wasn’t any of the themes, or the darkness. Indeed I’m fond of a dark and gruesome read every so often. It was the narration. The slightly odd placement of the narrative voice, both omnipotent in terms of the action and deeply personal in terms of the way he directly addressed the reader – while I appreciate Bartlett’s skill in maintaining it, I’m afraid it really distracted me from the real stuff of the story. I also found the Mr F thing a little contrived – I can sort of see the reasons for not revealing his full name, but it came across (for this reader at least) as trying a bit too hard.

    The thing is, I still really want to read this book, not least because when I was studying part of my research interest was representations of sexuality in literature, but I agree with Ana when she said that this book needs the reader to be ‘in the mood’ for it. I don’t think I was, but I hope to find myself in the mood for it at a future point. Maybe in the winter, when it’s dark outside.

    Sorry Simon, I do feel terribly guilty for not finishing it!

    • Don’t feel guilty Kirsty, but you and me are over!!! Hahahaha am joking! There may well be a book ahead I can’t finish in the next three fortnights who knows, the point is you tried and you do want to go back to it at some point. I did wonder about such a dark male narrative from all your current female lead reading maybe might not have helped, but then Cromwell is a dark man at times. Maybe I am clutching at straws lol. Quite possible!

      I have to say I really liked the narrative style, it would make me laugh. Especially the bit where he has the first dream and wakes up…

      “Don’t men make a funny sound when they are screaming” it made me cackle quite loudly, I am so beginning to worry about what this all says about me hahaha.

      • Actually, Simon, I wondered the same thing about all the Orange reading I’ve been doing. I think it also didn’t help that I started it straight after ‘The White Woman on the Green Bicycle’, which had quite a profound effect on me. I think whatever I picked up next was going to pale in comparison, and that’s another reason why I am certain I will give ‘Skin Lane’ another shot.

  9. gaskella

    I did feel sorry for Mr F at first, but then after we’re told about the dream, and he becomes obsessed with identifying the body within, I had visions of Jack the Ripper serial killings to come. But of course it was much, much more subtle than that, and again we have our sympathies twisted and turned throughout…

    • I wondered if the obessing about the body was so he could exorcise this dream he just didnt want to be having. But then it turns more obsessive because Mr F has never really had anything out of the ordinary happen?

  10. Morning everyone, sorry I have been backing in the kitchen and didn’t hear you all arrive. Salmon and scrambled egg muffins alright for everyone who is here so far.

    I need to catch up with all of the comments before I say too much more on the book, however despite my gushings and ravings (and I have been telling the world and his wife about this book, I just 100% got it) I could see this maybe a marmite book. Now speaking of Marmite… anyone for any of that on toast?

  11. Marmite might be right, Simon. I didn’t *hate* it though. I honestly just think I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it. I am going to try again with it later in the year, I promise!

    Now, did you mention salmon and scrambled egg muffins… ?

    • I’m relieved to hear I’m not alone here in the naughty corner and even more relieved Simon doesn’t get marked with virtual non-finishers of books:-) I definitely struggled to get back into this after that early success and also felt a sense of relief when I admired to myself it wasn’t going to work… But I’m still relieved that the wrath of the Savidge is only meted out at real life book groups:-)
      Could my marmite just say hello to the toast please Simon?

      • Hahahaha there isnt a wrath exactly Lynne, more an eyebrow movement, not a raising just a movement as book groups in my head (and I know I am not the law on it – oh if only) should get you tro try different things. That said at least people try.

        I am slightly worried I might have opened a can of worms about book group now hee hee. I have been so out of favour in certain circles the last two weeks though why stop now hehehe (oh I just did an evil cackle like I imagine Mr F would!)

      • I certainly give myself credit for trying because I wasn’t going to even get this one out of the library but then I did just for you, Simon! Still, I’m sorry if it disappoints you even a little bit. 🙂

        I’m almost amused to find out now that Bartlett didn’t take this book in the direction that it seemed to be inevitably leading. It’s certainly a relief in a way.

  12. Sorry for typos it’s this piddly little itouch keyboard thingy!

  13. ana

    Glad to know you have a sunny Sunday there. Across the world, we have had a particularly warm and gorgeous Autumn day. Weather like this is such a contrast to the emotional weather of Skin Lane and perhaps we do need something darker and more forbidding outside the window to help us with the mood as Kirsty says.

    • I definitley think timing is everything and mayeb after some, not light reads I don’t mean it like that, after some more gentle reads of late this was a great dark piece for me to get taken into. I was hooked from the off, though the italics annoyed me at first. I thought the opening with the tale of Beauty and the Beast and the breath… ooooh creepy.

  14. Colette Jones

    Hi everyone. I can’t say I liked this book very much, but it has grown a bit in my estimation since finishing it a couple weeks ago. I quite liked the first couple chapters, but after that I felt it was a bit too repetitive (the daily routine, the nightmare, etc). In hindsight, I think this was quite clever, as we’re supposed to notice the slight changes to his routine, and how would we notice them if we hadn’t had the routine drummed into our heads?

    I would have liked to have had more of the legalisation of homosexuality weaved into the story, but I realize that is quite a difficult thing to do.

    I also thought it was a bit dodgy to portray a homosexual as having such extreme thoughts and obsessions. Okay, Mr F didn’t do what we thought he was going to do, but he acted horrendously none-the-less. If the reader is a bit homophobic (I’m not, by the way), what will they read into this behaviour?

    • Colette I think you are spot on, I can see why the repetition would annoy some or prove boring, it was very much done so we saw the intricate and minimal changes as this man went through what I felt was almost a very belated emotional maturity.

      I hadn’t thought about how this might make gay men look then or now, I do think Mr F was quite probably an extreme case though. I did feel the author was trying to say something there.

      • Colette Jones

        Yes, I think the author was trying to say something, and yes, Mr F was an extreme case – I’m sure of that. Mr F was sympathetic to me for being gay in a world where that was unacceptable, but not for being so extreme in the way he treated people. We’re not supposed to have sympathy for Beauty, but he was a gorgeous young man who was getting everything handed to him on a plate – career and sex. This is not that unusual, and I would see him as absolved because of his youth. If in 10 or 20 years time he is still so self-centered then that is more of a problem.

  15. Did anyone after getting over the age gap thing, which I found slightly uncomfortable at first, with Mr F and Beauty then think that Mr F saw a younger him before he became the way he was and that was part of the fascination?

    (I will leave that question out there whilst I pop out briefly to get more supplies!)

    • Colette Jones

      Yes, I think that may have been alluded to, though I can’t remember for sure. I thought that the body in the nightmare was going to turn out to be Mr F himself, so that kind of goes along with your theory of a younger version of himself.

  16. Oh and, and, and – what was the deal with the father fixation, what did anyone think had happened there?

    I wonder if anyone thought the same as Morbid Savidge here?

    • Colette Jones

      I can’t remember that bit – remind me!

    • Oh yes, I wondered if Mr F had been abused by his father and had completely shut it out of his life. Hence, his lack of sexual awareness/knoweldge despite being 47 years old.

    • Yes, even in the first third of the book that I read, I started to wonder if his father had molested him in the middle of the night — hence the tense, waiting position that he slept in and the “visitation” feeling in the night. I was prepared to take it literally rather than imaginatively.

    • Louise

      I didn’t think he had been abused by his father. I took the references to his relationship with his father to be significant as this was the only relationship with another human being that he had ever experienced. There was a sentence somewhere in the book where he described the feeling of being held by the hand by his father as they went round the zoo, and it seemed to be the only experience of human contact that Mr F had ever had.

  17. Oooh, sorry I’m a bit late… I was hosting a real-life dinner party at mine yesterday and I’m still recovering. I’ll just have a very strong cup of black coffee please, Simon!

    Well, I’m going to shamelessly admit that I finished this book and I loved it. I loved the dark, creepy, chilling feeling it invoked; I loved the ominpresent narrator (even though they usually annoy me); I loved the characterisation; I loved the setting in the fur trade; I loved the time period; but most of all I loved the whole London feel of this book. I was walking to Cannon Street tube on Tuesday night when I suddenly realised I was walking past Skinners Hall (sorry, couldn’t take pics as there is construction nearby which means you can’t step back far enough to get the building in the shot) and I felt the hairs on the back of my end stand up. The fur trade might have gone from the are but there are still lots of hints and clues of once was in the names of buildings and lanes nearby.

    Simon, thank you sooooooo much for choosing this book. I raced through it in a matter of days and did not want it to end. I felt a lot of sympathy for Mr F, because he had no real idea of what was happening to him, it was so at odds with his usual clockwork regime. His story will stay with me for a long time, and I’ll be very interested to read more of Bartlett’s work.

    • gaskella

      Oh yes! – the London feel was excellent, it had a real sense of place.

    • I am sooooooo pleased that another host of the NTTVBG loved it as much as me! Hoorah! I don’t think there is anything I could really fault with this book and I have been wracking my brains. I love the fact that part of London caused hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, do you think it was the area or was it the book and how it had pulled you in?

      • It was definitely the book… I’ve walked past that hall several times and never thought anything of it before. Indeed, I hadn’t even clocked the name!

  18. Beate

    To tell you the truth: this book is my favourite of NTTVBC so far !
    Talking of previous reads, I had just finished WOLF HALL when I started this one and was so happpy I didn’t have to deal with all those Thomases any more….
    But anyway. I think Gartlett did a superb job in creating a very dark, gloomy even threatening atmosphere where I was forever wondering what the outcome would be.( Not as lethal as I feared ) We started off with this strange man with his peculiar habits and gradually were drawn into his obsessions and fantasies. For me it was a kind of awakening, as if Mr F, who is a “free man” by no means, identifies his own needs and sexual orientation, a preferance he can’t truly “live” in the sixties.
    “Do you feel pity for Mr F.?” – of course I do ! He ‘s a vivtim of his body’s needs and in permanent negation of the latter. Grown up in a motherless, somewhat “cold” atmosphere he never had somebody who gave him warmth and support, he never heard the words “I love you”, never had a real relationship. What a poor soul ! He doesn’t really know himself and it’s only through his dreams that he slowly “wakes” up.
    I liked this book a lot and think there is a lot to talk about. So – fabulous choice, Simon.

    And, ehm, sorry to bother you, but do you think there might be some coffee somewhere….I don’t do tea….. Sorry !!!

    • It’s definitely my favourite choice so far, too, Beate. I found Mr F completely fascinating. Who lives their lives in such an orderly, solitary manner? He was so alone… and yet seemed quite happy. Until those dreams shook him out of his complacency and began to offer him creepy glimpses of another life not lived.

    • I am so pleased you enjoyed this Beate. I think the fact that we as the reader are half lead to believe the book is going to go one way through the narrator only then for it all to be pulled from under our feet is one of the things I loved about the ending of the book. I also like how he told us what happened to everyone and how he found out about the whole story, it was like a long thrilling conversation with a friend. Or having the author read to us all in our beds, Bartlett must be shattered after visiting us all over the last few weeks hee hee.

      Thank you Beate there is fresh coffee or instant so do help yourself I hope The Converted One popped round with some sarnies, we are now preparing afternoon tea for you all and anyone else who joins in.

  19. Did anyone else think it slightly freaky that yet another NTTVBG choice has a fairy tale element to it? 😉

  20. Well it was certainly different I’ll give you that Simon!

    Yes I did finish and yes I did like it. I wouldn’t say I loved it but I found it read quite quickly (for me anyway)

    I also found that the author really took you by the hand in this one. Many times I thought the book was going down a much more dark and more disturbing route but then the author would step in and ‘reassure’ me.

    I have read other people critizise authors for doing this but I thought in in book it was perfectly done (I haven’t got my copy so am unable to give examples)

    A few times my husband asked me how the book was going and each time I answered ‘I have no idea where this is going, no idea’ even the final confrontation between Mr F and the boy I was unsure about. I had no idea how that scene was going to end. I think this added to the general ‘uneaseness’ of book.

    • gaskella

      The anticipation then reassurance by the narrator kept you on your toes didn’t it.

    • Its interesting that so many people liked this style of narration (I know some of you didn’t) I would have thought it would have grated on me but I liked the fact it was also like I was privy to it all had a conspiritorial aspect to it which I found compelling.

      • Yes, I normally hate omnipresent narrators — it’s a complete turn-off for me. But somehow this one worked. In a way it was like Bartlett had us tucked up in bed, or sat around the fireplace, and was telling us a fairy tale about a man who lived alone in 1967 and then had an epiphany. I never found his voice intrusive; indeed it was often welcome, because it took away some of the claustrophobia/oppression of the tale. In fact, his voice butting in every now and then reminded you that you were reading a story, so there was no need to have a heart attack about it all, because, let’s face it, some of the stuff in this book is very very heavy and potential violent and brutal.

  21. Chris

    Lovely to join you from sunny Manchester in the discussion. This was a book which from the cover alone I would never have picked up let alone read. The first hundred or so pages I found heavy going and I was almost ready to give up but then the tempo changed when Beauty came on to the scene. The characters came alive off the page and the tension was palpable. I found myself questioning how Neil Bartlett could have captured the atmosphere of the fur business without experiencing this firsthand. Apparently he’s also a theatre director so in common with Philippe Claudel a multitalented author.

  22. Did anyone else love Mrs Kesselman? Did anyone wonder about her sexuality or the possibility she was in love with Mr F?

    • gaskella

      Now you mention it …

    • Mrs Kesselman was a great character, but I don’t think she was in love with Mr F. If anything, she may well have been jealous of him. She was a woman and had probably progressed as far as she could in that company; she would never get to work upstairs with the men.

      • Did you think she was jealous thats really interesting Kim as that thought never crossed my mind. I though she defended him to others quite a lot and then there was helping him with the babu of Beauty situation, I thought it was all done with love or from a point of understanding. Hmmm… interesting.

      • gaskella

        I was thinking it was a kind of hero worship.

    • I have to say I didnt really get that at all reading the book, she came across to me as like a lot of working women that has always worked and had never stopped to have a family. Those girls were like her family, I think she had respect for Mr F and he was constant.

      • gaskella

        Sorry to lower the tone – It’s just occurred to me that she was Mrs Slocombe to Mr F’s Captain Peacock!

  23. Louise

    I raced through this book in no time – I was absolutely captivated by the story. I’ve been away on holiday for a week so have had more time than usual to devote to reading. I finished this on Wednesday and just can’t get into another book since then as everything else feels dreary and dull after Skin Lane…..

    I felt great sympathy for Mr F and it made me wonder how many people go through life with such a solitary existence. Many sections of the book brought me close to tears – usually the bits where he had memories of himself as a child (vistiing the zoo etc).

    I did find parts of it quite dark but always felt compelled to read on to see where it would take me. My ten year old daughter was a bit disturbed by the book cover and she asked my why I was reading a book with a ‘dead rat’ on the front.

    I had heard of this book previously as I’d seen reviews on another site. In fact there is a picture of 4 Skinner Lane in amongst the reviews here:

    So glad to have found this book – thanks for choosing it Simon.

    • Hahaha your daughters comment about the dead rat has really tickled me, it is a rather ominous cover isnt it?

      The solitary existance part of the book did make me feel very sympathetic towards Mr F which was interesting because he wasnt unhappy, or didn’t think of himself as unhappy and made me think about how I assume someone in that position would be unhappy and I should feel for them.

      Thanks for the link to the picture, its sort of as I imagined so Bartlett did paint it vividly for me. I do wonder where he got the idea!?!

    • I spend ages staring at the front cover trying to work it out too.

  24. The charactor at the beginning really reminded me of Harold from the film Stranger than fiction, in fact it was like reading the screenplay for a few chapters. If you haven’t seen the film this UTube clip will show you what I mean

    Although one of the main stars of this book was of course London itself (thanks for the link to the photos they are more or less what I expected)

  25. Oooh its all gone a bit quiet! Who needs nibbles?

    I was wondering about all the sexuality involved… would people have felt worse, better, or just the same if Beauty had been female? Does it make a difference?

    • That’s an interesting question, Simon. If Beauty was a girl I think I would be far less forgiving of Mr F…

      • I just wondered if the male to male relationship was something that made people feel more or less comfortable I hadnt thought about the forgiving factor thats very interesting.

        It puts me in mind of our conversation the other day about ‘comfortable’ (not comforting) reading.

  26. A late joiner here from St Albans – any tea left in the pot? I always need a cup when I head down into South London!

    Well, I love Marmite and I have to say that I completely loved this book as well. I just found it completely captivating and I can’t quite put my finger on why. So often I found myself wondering quite where things were going to go next and I quite liked the style of narration for leading me in that sense. As for Mr F…

    It’s strange, but he actually reminded me a bit of a guy I used to work with in the Civil Service in the way that everything in his life was planned to the exact minute. That in itself fascinated me and made me wonder if I ever really understood this old colleague of mine (and what he got up to out of the office!)

    I felt a strange sympathy with Mr F as well. Whilst I found the book very dark (added to as my pregnancy sleep pattern is such that much of my reading of late has been done in the very early hours of the morning whilst everyone else is asleep here!) I still felt like I wanted to go round and cook the guy a nice dinner or something – very strange!

    Very interesting to read how everyone else found it. I agree that London itself came out of the book very well and once I’ve got a minute I do plan to look at my A-Z to see where Skin Lane and all the other streets are (and possible Google Street View too!) As for the father – I agree that it certainly seemed to be that Mr F had been abused by him and that was why I thought he was as sexually suppressed as he was.

    A very good read – probably my favourite of the book group to date! Thanks for choosing it!

    • I think its interested how we all felt for Mr F when really I dont think he would feel he needed to be felt for, its an interesting one.

      I don’t think I would like to work with a Mr F in all honesty, gets the job done but might set fire to your premises after trying to seduce and kill one of your relatives… hmmmmm lol.

      I think I felt there was some dark relationship there, the way he knew the mosters breath was coming when it was storytime, the way he wanted to get Beuatys body down in the dream and say ‘Daddy will take care of you’ it all pointed to that love, abuse and love again cycle.

      No one is late to these gatherings, there is still plenty of tea and goodies to get your hands on here, though you may have to excuse your host shortly who is in dire need of an early night!

  27. Pingback: A novel to make your skin creep… « Gaskella

  28. I so wanted to join the book group this time but alas was unable to find a copy of the book in my travels. Perhaps the next one. It sounds lovely and it is still on my wishlist to read at a later time.

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  32. mel

    I realize I’m far too late to have tea, coffee, scones or anything else but I was a virtual presence when you had this discussion. I remember a query about the impact of the St Thomas painting and for myself assumed it stirred Mr F. as presenting the truth through a form of penetration, with an attendant sense of tentativeness, sacredness etc that Mr F is beginning to contemplate. Having just read Graham Robb’s Strangers, I can now also offer his comment that in the mid-19th century the wound in Jesus’s side was “a visual euphemism” for the vagina… He goes on to say the masculinity of the adult Jesus was veiled, his femininity openly displayed. Make of it what you will but I bet Neil Bartlett knew that!

  33. I’ve just started this book and like you wanted to find out more about the area. Ive googled it and can only find SKINNERS Lane, so perhaps there’s a bit of poetic license there? Won’t read too many reviews at the moment until Ive finished the book but its certainly holding my attention and making me want to turn pages.

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  35. U said u had read “ready to catch Him Should he fall”, Simon:) This is one of my favourite books, and ranks nearly up there with my hero WG Sebald; thought the content is partly lgbt-related, it is a classic for EVERYONE; amazing , rich, Baroque prose; and descriptions eg of the London angels (which re-appear i think in “Skin lane” which i chose for the lgbt book group)are poignant, as is the relationshop between “Boy” and the older man. I notice u like Toibin too; so u might get two vanilla slices:P. Whilst my blogs make it look like i am only into critical theory and queer/lgbt politics(and decay lol), I am a great reader of novels; two other highlights would be Corlett’s spare and indescribably moving “now and Then” and “The Unconsoled”(Ishiguro; surreal!); oh and Toibin’s ravishing “Story of the Night”. Finally an odd but worthwhile book i discovered , “Alienation” by Ian Everton, early GMP, surreal, and manages to be poetic AND political. Steve

  36. Pingback: The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Giveaway: How To Be Both – Ali Smith | Savidge Reads

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