Ackerley

I’ve spent most of today with a paedophile maharajah, and I’m a bit uneasy about the experience.

J.R.Ackerley  has been a favourite writerof mine for years. His memoir My Father and Myself is one of the great astonishing books, and My Dog Tulip is a book every dog owner ought to read – Ackerley just  understands dogs. Then  his  play The Prisoners of War, based on his own experience as a prisoner on parole in a Swiss hotel, gives an angle on the Great War that no other text does. He wrote very few books, but each one is different and original.

I’d never read Hindoo Holiday , but found a copy yesterday. It’s in diary form, and tells how after the war Ackerley went (on creepy old E.M.Forster’s recommendation) to a remote Indian kingdom, to act as a sort of secretary to the Maharajah, an infirm old pedant with a fondness for sententious literature and a taste for young boys.

The Prisoners of War shows an officer tortured by a homosexual passion that can’t be reciprocated.  It’s a  powerful text, and I’d like to see it on stage.  Hindoo Holiday shows another kind of homosexual behaviour. The maharajah has power over the boys and young men in his little kingdom, and uses it. He passes pretty boys  over to Ackerley –  who doesn’t seem to want to do  more than moon romantically over them, but joins happily in the game.

Ackerley’s writing is always non-judgmental (which is why he can be so original about dogs, or about his bigamist father) but here I find it disturbing – the more so because he’s incapable of writing a dull page. How much is the disturbing effect deliberate? I don’t know, but it’s a text that works on a lot of levels. Many passages are very coded – meaning one thing to the general reader, and something else to someone who’s fully alert to the homosexual implications.

So I’m not enjoying the book as much as I thought I would – but I still feel he’s a better writer than E.M. Forster.

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