Everyone is Watching

By Megan Bradbury

Mantle

3/5 stars

The title of Megan Bradbury’s first novel might well refer to the author herself. A highly decorated graduate of the University of East Anglia’s revered creative-writing course, she enters literary life with readers’ cross hairs trained on her. She hasn’t held back: her debut criss-crosses a century of New York life, from Walt Whitman to Robert Mapplethorpe, from Patti Smith to Maurice Bucke, and from Edmund White to Robert Moses, the urban planner who can lay claim to creating the city the world knows and loves. Everyone is Watching couldbe subtitled “Homosexuality in the City”. Bradbury offers an impressionistic series of queer portraits that explore place, love, eroticism and art. What is curious, given the richness of this context, in the echo chamber that is New York and its diverse characters, is how flattening Bradbury’s voice proves. She is fond of declarative precision that cracks to let in profundity. In one Mapplethorpe section: “Art. It lies all around him, in this room and in every other room of the Chelsea. It seems the whole world is made up of art.” Fair play, only this is hammered home to an uncomfortably monotonous degree. Bradbury is talented and possessed of a striking voice, but she’s a diamond in the rough.