A review of Kit by Alan Edward, Coltsfoot Press, Amsterdam, 1983
For centuries, in the West, Christian churches provided the intellectual basis for societal disapproval, and often murderous condemnation, of men and women who were unconventionally sexed. In recent years that role has been taken over by the mind-doctoring and mind-examining professions -- without much change in thrust as far as paedophiles are concerned. Psychiatry, which in its infancy was a radical profession, is now comfortably conservative; the followers of Freud have swapped the heady adventure of exploration for houses in suburbia, membership in the local golf club and, most insidious of all, government grants to carry on safe therapy or safe research which they guarantee will come to approved conclusions.
There is little fiction which illuminates this threadbare world. Psychiatrists, by and large, are not gifted with the kind of imagination which can craft a novel, and novelists seldom know much about psychoanalytic theory and the workings of a mental institution. In Kit Alan Edward, whose past performances have shown him well able to describe love relations between man and boy, tackles this challenging theme.
Kit, his 12-year-old hero, has lost his parents in a car accident which may or may not have been a suicide; a few months later he is declared "autistic" and sent to an asylum in the English country. There an assortment of quarrelling eccentrics, each wedded to a different social, political or psychiatric system, tries to bring him back to mental health.
It also happens that shut up in the Adult Unit of the same hospital is a 34-year-old bachelor by the name of Paul Baxter. Baxter is not mentally ill, although he does have his hours with a psychiatrist, but has been put there in lieu of a prison sentence, for he is a convicted "child molester". Paul and Kit meet and, through the natural therapy of love and sexual pleasure, the boy begins to recover -- despite the efforts of the hospital staff.
It is a measure of the author's talent that episodes involving the psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists and nursing officers are very nearly as interesting as the love story itself. Alan Edwards uses the little power struggles of the staff, their conflicts in philosophy, inability to understand pubertal sexuality and the mental landscape of a boy approaching adolescence, to examine current social and psychiatric myths, and he does this with both wit and tension. Baxter argues his defense of boy-love with a wonderfully conservative yet sensitive psychiatrist. The "case conferences" over Kit often attain a high level of comedy as each participant pushes his or her pet theory or tries to take credit for the baffling improvement in the boy's mental condition. By such careful construction Alan Edward avoids the trap of a polemical novel and casts his ideas into the turbulent waters of human interaction. It is fascinating to watch. More importantly, it makes these scenes in Kit great fun to read.
But the ultimate success of any such book must rest upon the love story, and here it is that Kit is strongest. The mental images of a truly psychotic person are probably not very interesting. Kit's stream of disturbed consciousness in the early part of the novel is interesting, and colours as the boy first becomes aware of Paul Baxter and then finds himself falling in love. The great flood of warmth as their love seeks and finds sexual expression is so intense, and magically described, that it threatens to blind the reader to all else.
The idea of love as therapy is as old as the hills, yet psychoanalytic theory holds that the therapist must be impersonal, a sort of blank screen on which the patient can project distorted images processed from his infancy in order for them to be corrected: love, then, actual and sexually expressed, would be fatal. There is a touching scene near the end of Kit where the boy and his psychiatrist come dangerously close to expressing affection, when the man feels the danger and withdraws. Paul Baxter doesn't withdraw and that, Alan Edward is saying, like Robert Frost before him, makes all the difference.
Reviewed in Pan: a magazine about boy-love, XV (March 1983) pp. 24-5.