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A Different Kind of Love
Jay Mandal

"By the way, I've found out what Heaven is."
"I think I have, too," breathed James. And he didn't mean the nightclub.

Reviewed by Mark Brown

It's easy to admire what Jay Mandal is trying to achieve in his collection of short stories A Different Kind of Love. Rather than a salacious or tragic representation of love between gay men, the world Mandal creates is one of romance. Here, hunky men ask you for coffee then take you on holiday, people who meet as friends gradually find that they have deeper feelings and two people can share one lover and remain happy. His characters, whether in the first flush of youth or entering middle age, always find love where they least expect. There are struggles and misunderstandings, but love wins out and boy always gets boy in the end. If finally there is equality of gender and sexuality, then teenage magazines for queer boys will be filled with stories like these, sweet and innocent yarns that demurely fade to black as the bedroom door opens. 

Mandal's intentions are not literary. Many of the stories in the collection read like scripts for radio, with small nods toward description and setting. Mandal has a good ear for the cadence of conversation, and captures well the subtle balance between revealing and probing involved in establishing where a chance meeting might lead. 

The stories in A Different Kind of Love are full of the pleasures, and limitations of genre. They are driven by plot almost to the exclusion of all else. Where a literary treatment of love might take the reader down many interesting or lateral diversions, Mandal's adherence to genre conventions allows the stories to glide on rails toward their endings like children's fairground rides, often climaxing with a twist ending. 

Unfortunately, when Mandal deviates from such formula he is far less certain, barely maintaining control of his plots and in the case of The Last Laugh, lapsing into complete confusion. A tendency to have all of his characters speak in similar ways, with minimal description does not help. Despite this, he is strongest is capturing the sheer open-hearted vulnerability of someone throwing themselves into the uncertainty of romance. 

As this collection stands, it is difficult to criticise it for failing to be something that it does not intend to be, but even then it contains some significant errors of judgement that should not go without note. The collection is prefaced by a series of quotes from famous people, obviously chopped very finely from correspondence intended to convey praise. The worst and most painful is a quote from radio broadcaster Ned Sherrin that simply reads: "Thanks, I enjoyed...". 

In some ways this is a summary of the failing of the book as a whole. It does not aspire to literary pretensions, representing a kind of folksy cottage industry, with the author spinning his yarns for a small and loyal group of readers, happy merely to be acknowledged. It is this evident satisfaction and comfortableness that makes Mandal's stories innocent and sweet but also limited. Drama is punctured by predictability and a lack of style that suggests that Mandal is happy to merely get these romantic stories out there as a kind of corrective to the mainstream world of gay men's fiction, happy simply to challenge the idea that all stories about gay men should either end in sadness or sexual abandon.

Read an excerpt from one of the stories from this collection on BeWrite.

From Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Mark Brown now lives in south-east London. His work has appeared in Punk Planet, Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Transmission, Pen Pusher, Skive and Irk amongst others. He is editor of One in Four magazine. He can be contacted at markbrown1977@googlemail.com.

Mark's other Short Reviews: Ali Smith "Other Stories & Other Stories"

Carys Davies "Some New Ambush"

Peter Wild (ed) "Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall"

Jim Hinks (ed) "Brace: A New Generation in Short Fiction"


Publication Date: 2002

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?: No

Author bio: Jay Mandal is a busy writer from Southern England. He has written three novels and numerous short stories, which have featured in popular gay publications, in his collections Slubberdegullion, The Loss of Innocence, Precipice and in the forthcoming Best Gay Romance 2009 anthology.

Read an interview with Jay Mandal

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The Publisher's Website: BeWrite





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