Books

Fleetwood Dissects the European Mindset in His Moody, Disturbing Thriller, 'A Young Fair God'

Hugh Fleetwood's difficult though absorbing A Young Fair God offers readers a look into the age-old world views that have established and perpetuated cultural rank and the social attitudes that continue to divide us wherever we may reside in the world.

A Young Fair God
Hugh Fleetwood

Amazon (reprint)

May 2020

Other

Specializing in the kind of thrillers that explore the interstitial spaces that are moral dilemmas, Hugh Fleetwood has made a career out of consigning characters to a world of habitual anxiety. His work was brought to wide attention with The Girl Who Passed for Normal, published in 1973 and the winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize the following year.

Since then, the British author has penned several works that have (usually) explored the artist's life in some form or another. He lives on the margins of larger success and for reasons understandable; he skirts the conventions of his preferred genre with a determination and brio that can be every bit as admirable as it can be frustrating. Fleetwood is not a button-pusher, but a skilled and thoughtful writer who, noiselessly, rather calmly, leads his readers into grey, uncomfortable areas and leaves them there to sort out their ideas and feelings about the narratives.

Often in his novels, characters are brought to a bridge in which their internal drives for independence dangerously conflict with a newly formed relationship of some kind (either a love affair or a friendship). Sometimes, those bridges are burned, sometimes not, for better or worse.

Already on a writer's streak with several novels to his name by the time A Young Fair God was initially released in 1982, the author has continued to probe at the discomfiting pressure points that embarrass, frighten, and disturb us. His portrayal of an admitted bigot with sociopathic tendencies worried his publishers in the way it should have. The story is not exactly satire, but a wry look on the European (particularly British) consciousness and the way it is often impressed (read: imposed) upon othered cultures.

Forcing the reader into the dark, emotional quandaries that suggest some kind of logic (though indeed skewed) behind certain European perspectives on entitlement and cultural positions, A Young Fair God does its job as a proper pot-stirrer. The story (its narrative construction a murder-mystery) centers on a young British teen named Peter who is vacationing with his parents in Mexico. Lounging around a luxurious hotel, Peter eyes his fellow lodgers with a kind of contempt that has much to do with his beliefs in a certain "Seriousness" that places him above others whom he assumes either remain forever oblivious on the banks of life or do not possess a first-world privilege. In his delusions of grandeur, Peter sees himself as a "young fair god", worthy of some kind of worship that would place him in a position that overrules all other ideologies that pertain to social order.

A gruesome murder at the hotel is followed by yet another, and soon Peter appoints himself as the hotel's detective, singling out the culprit without too much trouble.

But Fleetwood's provocative and emotionally polemic tale does not end there. Peter's ideology of European superiority is tested ruthlessly in his jealousies (and, perhaps, attraction) toward the local Mexican waiter, a quietly perceptive young man whose detachment from the surrounding bedlam is the studied result of a life lived in continuous subjugation. Peter can't give up his notions of the European Way, much to the reader's discomfort. Fleetwood deliberately binds his protagonist's worldview into the resolution of the mystery, which folds to a curious and revealing denouement.

Peter does indeed get his comeuppance, as does the murderer, but it is not delivered with a sharp and stinging slap – rather a subtle turn down an unexpected path, leaving the reader, as always, in the troubling emotional impasse Fleetwood had set out to design at the novel's start. While Peter may be no richer for his realizations by the novel's end, perhaps the reader is.

A Young Fair God has been revised in 2020. Its re-release seems rather timely. In our period of cultural and racial strife, Fleetwood's difficult though absorbing novel offers readers a look into the age-old world views that have established and perpetuated cultural rank and the social attitudes that continue to divide us wherever we may reside in the world.

The writing is lean but holds a descriptive intensity that brings to focus Mexico's nature and wildlife with lush, sensorial detail. Inner dialogue (Peter's reflections, musings, and deliberations) reveal the true horrors of the novel, ones that outweigh the ghastly murders and rightly induce the intended chills.

A marksman with words, Fleetwood captures the calm of acquiescence and the roarings of hysteria with a balance that is narratively pitched between a meditation on racial inequity and a dark, psychological thriller. Under the nacreous polish of the writing lies the venom, blood and dirt the author has so capably concealed – a feature perfected remarkably in the nearly 30 works he has published in his 50-year career.

* * *

You might also enjoy Imran Khan's "Civilized Murders: An Interview with Author and Artist Hugh Fleetwood".



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.