One of the great pleasures of reading indie authors is that they are often literary Luddites, exuberantly smashing the commercial frameworks imposed on their more industrially-produced cousins, replacing them with a more zestful, fresh, individual and – might I say – compelling approach to their work.
It is not that they do not recognise as well as anyone the existence of the rules and formulae drawn up to govern the structure, content and style of mainstream modern literature, it is just that they prefer to explore other creative options for the good of their, and our, souls. “Know what you should do then do as you like” was the moral guideline I was schooled in by my parents and it is the literary guideline of many indie authors too.
Let me declare straight off that Stuart Aken’s pointedly joyous ‘Breaking Faith’ is the output of such an independent and questing mind. However, if you like to slot books as automatically and systematically into standardised categories as the priapic photographer Leighton Longshaw likes to slot his …. no, no, I’ll come back to that later …. then this novel may pose you something of a challenge.
At first I thought it was some form of hybrid of Stella Gibbons’ ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, of Emily Brontë's ‘Wuthering Heights’, of the Elle McPherson film ‘Sirens’, and of E.M. Forster’s ‘A Room With A View’ with its ringing closeted declaration that the only crime in love is for those who love each other to be forced apart, but halfway through the book I realised that it is something considerably more surprising - the unlikely revival of the Victorian high-moral literary melodrama. You might well quibble that the morals espoused by this work are not very Victorian, nor very moral, but I am sure that there was many a Victorian master of the house who retired to his study to indulge his taste for similarly stimulating reading material. It would definitely not be for the eyes of the women and the servants of the household though, and it would like as not come wrapped in deceptively bland packaging, which is how appropriately this book started out although it now sports a cover much closer to sex on legs. Indeed, if you want the briefest of summaries of the plot, that was it. Faith starts out in bland packaging and ends up as sex on legs.
To provide a more detailed resumé of the story, it revolves around the shamelessly libidinous Mr. Leighton Longshaw who enthusiastically and compulsively slots himself into the moist nether regions of his willing photographic models as plentiful opportunities arise. Then, for want of a Girl Friday, he hires the reputed village idiot, Faith, albeit one ready-furnished with a conversational vocabulary of around 100,000 words. Something, I cannot think what – call it male intuition – hints to him that there is more to this woman than meets the eye.
As in all the best moral works, the names of the characters say it all. Faith comes tarnished by the hell-fire religious bigotry of her father but, given a few determined applications of Silvo, is soon all burnished and wondrously bright. Her two sisters are called Hope and Charity. Hope, with heavy-handed (not to mention tasteless) irony is paralysed from the brain down as a result of a surgical misfortune although her abusive father hopes to revive her come what may. Charity is as charity does. She is supplied with seemingly inexhaustible resources and very few requirements for eligibility for hand-outs other than youthful masculine energy and good looks.
And the moral? I have a bit lost count of how many of the characters have spouted it now, so it is almost certainly that free sex is fun but that it has to be stirred through thoroughly with true love and steadfast, honest passion for it to be alchemised into a truly satisfying blend – not a bad moral really.
And not a bad book either. It will almost certainly contain enough pert nipples and lubricated crevices to please discerning customers - there is a passage where Leigh and Netta couple seven times in a night and I think we get all the balls and whistles on each and every one of them – and there is no debating that this is a huge page-turner, partly because it is well-written and partly because the characters are so appealingly fleshed-out in personality as well as in anatomy. Several reviewers both on the jacket and on Amazon state that this book is hard to put down and that was my experience too. At 343 dense large-format pages it is quite a weighty book but I read it effortlessly within two days. You will certainly race through the last few chapters as it makes an unexpected breakneck dash for the finishing line.
Whether this represents a realistic social depiction of an albeit niche 1970s English North Country lifestyle is another matter. Maybe it was discoverable in the Yorkshire Dales but it never reached the East Yorkshire Wolds that I ever stumbled across, although I believe that it put in the odd appearance in Holderness from the 1950s onwards. However realism, by definition, is not what moral tales are all about. They seek to point the way towards the ideal, and if some of the dialogue sounds like it has been drafted and voted upon as manifesto composites at the annual conference of the Socially Liberated Party, so be it.
One word of advice - don’t be tempted to present it to any Aunt Matildas for Christmas, unless you want to see them off. They would probably much prefer one of the original Victorian high-moral literary melodramas - ‘Eric or Little By Little’ maybe where the reader continually discovers the headmaster in his study on his knees in prayer. In ‘Breaking Faith’ he wouldn’t be praying – his prayers would already be well on the way to being answered.
You can view 'Breaking Faith' on Amazon here