(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Although Loving Monsters is presented as a work of fiction, it also plays with the conventions of biography in recounting the story of an elderly Englishman’s progress from callow youth to world-wise adult. The text includes what purport to be photographs of several of its characters and settings, and the author’s “Acknowledgements” refer to Jayjay as if he were an actual person. The otherwise unidentified narrator’s first name, “James,” is the same as that of his putative creator, James Hamilton- Paterson, and there are a number of other similarities between the careers of “James” and James. This blurring of the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction is one of the major themes of Loving Monsters and has particularly significant implications for the novel’s many considerations of the nature of biography.

Jayjay’s story is part of a complex narrative framework bounded by James’s career as a professional writer. It is his familiarity with the latter’s books that leads Jayjay to suggest himself as a potentially rewarding biographical subject, and one of the many intriguing strands of this deftly constructed work is James’s uncertainty as to whether there is a publishable book here; Jayjay’s initial autobiographical recollections, although both exotic and erotic, strike James as lacking the fundamental human interest that would justify a formal biography. The result is a fascinatingly tense situation in which Jayjay’s unwillingness to reveal his deepest secrets is gradually overcome by his need to convince James that he is worthy of the writer’s time and attention, as both men move toward the revelation of matters that they have long chosen to repress.

The first section of Jayjay’s memoirs concerns his childhood in England and his young adulthood in Egypt. The English material seems a conventional account of a sensitive youth’s upbringing in an apparently stable if somewhat materialistic middle-class family, but a discordant note is sounded when Jayjay vehemently rejects the idea that his mother was a formative influence in his development. The narrative pauses here to register James’s thought that this is probably an evasion rather than a truth, as Loving Monsters sets up a running commentary of biographer on subject that accomplishes two important purposes: the inclusion of James’s responses amid Jayjay’s discourse, an important aspect of the text’s overall strategy of bringing their respective stories together, and the establishment of an attitude of suspicion toward Jayjay’s veracity, which adds a strong element of suspense to recollections that, if taken at face value, would often seem rather mundane.

The outwardly prosaic nature of Jayjay’s English background is enlivened by one episode that foreshadows much of his subsequent life. Taken to the funeral of one of his father’s friends, Jayjay is moping around by himself when he encounters an affable stranger who turns out to be a professional gate-crasher. The stranger introduces Jayjay to the idea that it is possible to live one’s life as an “imposter,” adopting the appropriate behavior and mannerisms for each social situation as a means of enjoying the benefits that accrue to acceptance by the more affluent. Jayjay, who has always assumed that adults were in fact the staid, boring personages they appeared to be, is bowled over by the idea that it is possible to achieve by deception what has been withheld by accident of birth, and his career will be strongly influenced by this revelation as to how private cleverness can create public character.

Jayjay’s own career as an imposter gets underway when, at the age of eighteen, he travels to Cairo to work in the offices of a shipping company. Bored by the monotony of the job and the insufferable dullness of his colleagues, he begins to explore the shadier side of the city’s nightlife and discovers a nether realm of sexual experimentation that soon draws him into its promiscuous pleasures. It is his encounters with homosexuality, personally in...

(The entire section is 1655 words.)