Encapsulate the book in one sentence? The queer life and times of the disparate people of a London street.
Intriguing, tell me more. On the day Concord Webster turns eighteen, the man a few doors down known as the Devil dies, and Concord is surprised to discover that his mother owns a key to his house. Curious, he goes to the local witch/midwife Mama Zepp who tells him the stories of the many people who've lived on the street, their loves, betrayals, and queer secrets.
Why this, why now? I've been eyeing In The Eyes of Mr Fury for some time - since it was first announced as one of Valancourt's re-releases - as so much about it seems calculated to appeal to my particular sensibilities. In the meantime, I devoured all of Philip Ridley's movies (discovering to my surprise that he is the man behind Heartless, a particular favourite of mind that I hadn't connected the dots to) and read Crocodilia, a vivid, wildly charged little book that I adored. And so it seemed I couldn't put off Mr Fury for any longer.
What genre would you say it is? In this iteration (this version is an extended 'author's preferred' version to the original publication) it is an intimate queer magic realist epic, an interconnected tapestry of stories invested with a rich sense of myth and tragedy. At times grounded in the drudgery of day-to-day life and at times leaping in flights of evocative fancy, it tells the hidden stories of a set of characters from diverse parts of the queer spectrum over several decades and generations.
Did you finish it? Did it work for you? I devoured it, and yes: it did work for me. It worked for me in a way few books have in years, and leapfrogged straight into my favourites list. Put simply: this book is stunning. The characters are richly detailed, living breathing people lovingly rendered through the slow unfolding of the many secret lives of the Street. If the occasional sense that there really are an absurd amount of homosexuals in this Street arises, it can be forgiven by the self-conscious sense of narrative, and by it's underlying themes of queer chosen family (whether implicit or explicit) flocking together and what Mr Fury magnificently succeeds at is evoking that sense so particular to the queer experience of weaving legend of out of one's own stories. The magic realist elements (which I gather from the back matter are predominantly the elements added to the narrative) feed this sense of tragedy and joy, of stories being written from the texture of lives, with perfect precision.
What surprises did it hold – if any? From what I'd already encountered of Philip Ridley's work I'd expected a work evocative of the power of desire, with all the traps and frustrations and exhilarations incumbent with that. Mr Fury delivers on this, but I'd also expected a dose of cynicism alongside; Crocodilia, for example, is ultimately about stripping away the illusions and delusions of desire. But while Mr Fury never shies away from the pathos of desires kept long-secret, it is also pointedly a celebration of queer lives, and it ends on an unashamedly triumphant and decidedly romantic note.
What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you? There are so many beautiful moments within this, but the particular moment that stood out to me is the arrival of the grandfather in the balloon. A seemingly throwaway anecdote from earlier in the book about an ancestor who sailed away on a hot air balloon never to be seen again returns near the close on a moonlit night just in time to present a utopian vision of the world as it should be to our erstwhile Concord; it's a genius moment, both illusory and defiant, and I shall present some of it below:
Give me a good quote: 'That's it?! That's all that bothers her?! Jumping jellybeans, what's wrong with people on this tiny and far too watery planet?! I don't understand them... I just don't understand...' He took a deep breath. 'So far - in my lifetime alone - this overmoist blue globe has experienced Jack the Ripper, the San Francisco earthquake, the sinking of the Titanic, the Battle of the Somme, mustard gas, the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918, concentration camps, atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firestorm of Dresden, the Blitz on London, countless terrorist attacks, assassinations, revolutions, massacres, murders, as well as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches, floods, droughts, not to mention diphtheria, polio, cancer, Alzheimer's, as well as numerous collisions with meteors, the largest of which - in Tunguska, Russia - destroyed nearly eight hundred square miles of forest - and yet, despite all this constant death, suffering and heartache - when we all know our own life and the lives of those we love and cherish could be taken from us at any moment without rhyme or reason - we are still bothered if two people of the same sex fall in love with each other.'
Is it available today? Valancourt have re-released the book with the updated and expanded text from the author, which you can find here. Bonus: beautiful hardback with signed art card available!