Max Schaefer, Granta, £12.99
This brilliant first novel traces two interweaving narratives. There is the story of James, a gay journalist who becomes obsessed with the history of gays in the British fascist movement in the 1970s and 1980s. We also follow the story of Tony, a young gay man who becomes involved with the Nazis in the early 1970s.
In recent months anti-fascists in Britain have had to wake up to the threat of racist protests organised by the various "defence leagues". For a generation of people born after the mid-1970s these represent the first serious mobilisations where fascist thugs and football hooligans have combined to instigate violent clashes in our towns and city centres. Max Schaefer reminds us of the horrors of Nazi-orchestrated violence in the 1970s and 1980s. In one chilling scene the young Tony is involved in an attack on a queue for a black night club, this is particularly startling as an earlier scene sees him and his mates going to a black club for the music. The author captures the bleak excitement from inside these thugs' heads as they prepare the attack, one of them armed with a crowbar. At a time of recession and the growth of the BNP this book serves as an alarm call.
There are a number of disturbing scenes in the book but Schaefer steers clear of the gratuitous. There is also hope. There are several pages describing the excitement and colour of the great anti-war demonstration of 15 February 2003 as James and his friends take part. Mostly set in London, the book effectively captures the smell and taste of the capital. Anyone familiar with the city will feel right at home.
This is a well researched book and the page-turning action of the novel is supplemented with a raft of duplicated press cuttings from the period. These, as well as documenting gay "scandals" in the National Front, also describe the tensions that such exposés created inside the organisation. There are also extracts from various fascist fanzines, including "Rock Against Communism". They show that effective anti-Nazi mobilisations and Rock Against Racism continually helped to deepen existing splits and foster a sense of paranoia among the leadership.
All of the central characters of the story are gay men and as such Schaefer spends some time on questions of sexuality. James's journalistic obsession with gay Nazi Nicky Crane, who starred in a number of gay porn films, parallels an exploration of his own sexual desires, complicated by a failure to fully understand his boyfriends' sexual wonts. Schaefer's themes are serious and complex, and force you to ponder them long after you've put the book down.
This book gives a fascinating insight into fascist organisations in Britain since the 1970s and is useful in helping to understand our enemies today. The only question after such a striking first novel is, what will he do next?