Sex and the insecurity forces

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 April, 1993, 12:00am

WE ALL LIVE IN A HOUSE CALLED INNOCENCE By Nigel Watts (Spectre, $105) IT'S good to be back among all the old familiar themes; love, sex (not necessarily associated), depravity (often associated), betrayal and friendship. Nigel Watts seems to be something of an expert in these matters, pouring them liberally into this, his third novel.

James Morrison is turning 30 and finding difficulties coping with life. A long-standing relationship is cracking, the final fissure being brought about by James unwittingly initiating a threesome with another woman who is a lesbian and strikes up a relationship with his girlfriend. Her attraction to bisexuality seems to be more a case of a reaction against her unsatisfactory heterosexual relationship with James.

Meanwhile, James befriends the marvellously wacky Tad Czapski. Tad describes himself as a cripple, a reasonable description of someone with the lower part of his body withered away, confining him to a wheelchair. He also happens to be a homosexual with asideline in writing pornographic stories for gay magazines. '' 'He calls himself an all-round pariah,' James explains to a new girlfriend. 'Next lifetime he says he'll come back as a black, lesbian dwarf,' '' Mr Watts, has, in other words, assembled an interesting cast for this tale of self-doubt and insecurity. Most of the doubting and insecurity zeroes in on matters sexual.

In James' case the flesh is willing, but unsatisfactory, while the mind is weak. Tad encourages him to live out his fantasies but he executes his ideas with appalling ineptitude. Tad, meanwhile, has a rather different agenda in mind for James but, as we discover, a rather complex one.

Mr Watts pulls the reader along with a fluid writing style and dashes of stunning wit. He creates an atmosphere where the appalling mixes freely with the humorous. Lurking in the background are some rather more serious themes which he tackles with muted enthusiasm.

Ultimately this is a book about how people who live each other, let each other down. It is also about how people who are not in love establish unsatisfactory relationships which masquerade as love. Disentangling these themes suggests that the book is farmore earnest than it is. Mr Watt has a light hand in painting this sombre picture.

I would strongly recommend his work to apprentices of mid-life crisis and even more strongly suggest it as required reading for those who have passed through this stage and are at liberty to look back with relief.