❉ Planning a family? You won’t be, once you’ve read The Picture of Leon Brittan…
With a title called ‘The Picture of Leon Brittan’, you are being misdirected by Daniel Raven into thinking this is going to become a dark and harrowing story featuring the despair and horror of child abuse or sexual exploitations. Leon Brittan, who died in 2015, had been one of several Home Secretaries during the Thatcher administration of the 1980s, and had recently had become the latest politician to fall foul of rumours that he had been involved with a political paedophile ring. Brittan was posthumously cleared of rape allegations. The misdirection is reinforced by the beginning of the novella, which takes as its form a long letter sent to a former girlfriend. This confessional begins to relate why the author was never able to have full sex with her. We are then taken back to the start of his problem when he was a fresh student aged nineteen in the grey and tedious year, 1991. (This was one of the most boring years Great Britain has ever produced and the various cultural references Raven intersperses in his text, some of which are still with us, reinforces this memory of mine.)
The narrator – and if he was ever named, I regret to have missed his christening – is a particularly well-observed and finely drawn mass of sexual frustration and self-analysis which most of us teenage boys underwent, and how we desperately tried to cover up our desires and lusts with any chemical going. He himself is happy to admit he is scared of women, and his University friends consist of the Tolkien and ‘Doctor Who’ fans, which once implied a virginal lifestyle, although my memory of university days in the early ’90s suggests they were becoming an extinct breed. He wants to lose his virginity, but tries his best not to make it obvious when talking to the second, and the pivotal character, the extraordinary and seemingly androgynous Wendy Constant. She is the biggest misdirection of the piece. The narrator witnesses her father, (the description of whom instantly suggests the impossible casting of the late Ken Campbell), inappropriately touching his daughter. As a lot of witnesses do, he then does his best to forget what he has seen until long after he forms a chaste friendship with Wendy which he wants to develop into a proper relationship.
There is a snag. Wendy does not like sex, and has a horror of sexual organs, even the name of them. After admitting he watched her father fondle her, he suspects as we all would, that this is the reason why genitals disgust her. It also explains why she appears to have been driven into the arms of God, well, one of them anyway. When he has a chance encounter with her father in the street, things no longer appear so straight-forward.
From here on, the story takes a dramatic and fantastical turn as we discover the reality of Wendy Constant, a multi-verse creation myth, and the origins of what can only be described as the battle of the sexes and the creation of evil within the world, which makes the cover choice of a medicinal leech very appropriate. The telling of the myth is a little over-long and, in comparison with the rest of this otherwise well told and entertaining read, struggles to keep the attention, but the effect on the narrator the revelation of who Wendy is, and why she won’t have sex with anyone, is as pleasing as any sweaty climax. Short though it is, there are many ideas and a realistic portrait of how a young man fights against new ideas until he is overwhelmed by them, and is never the same again.
❉ ‘The Picture of Leon Brittan’ by Daniel Raven is published by Tinker’s Cuss and available in Kindle from Amazon, £2.38 (or 0.00 with Kindle Unlimited)