Gents

Overview

Gents is a touching and brilliantly funny exploration of a clash of cultures and morals set in the underground world of a men's public urinal. Ezekiel Murphy, a black West Indian immigrant, takes up a new job as an attendant in a large London lavatory. The supervisor, Josiah Reynolds, and another West Indian, Jason, explain to him that one of the main problems they face is the amount of casual sex that takes place in the cubicles. They are under pressure from the council authorities to reduce such behaviour and ...
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Overview

Gents is a touching and brilliantly funny exploration of a clash of cultures and morals set in the underground world of a men's public urinal. Ezekiel Murphy, a black West Indian immigrant, takes up a new job as an attendant in a large London lavatory. The supervisor, Josiah Reynolds, and another West Indian, Jason, explain to him that one of the main problems they face is the amount of casual sex that takes place in the cubicles. They are under pressure from the council authorities to reduce such behaviour and expect Ez to help them in 'cleaning out the swamp'. Each of the protagonists brings his own moral assumptions to the problem. Ez, a devout Adventist, is shocked by such revelations. Jason believes that this kind of sex occurs because 'Whitey' is inherently corrupt. Reynolds, having been warned by the council that their Gents has always had a bad reputation, takes a more pragmatic view of the problem and is concerned to prevent such sexual encounters in case the council attempts to close the establishment down. A determined campaign by the three attendants effectively reduces the furtive activity in the cubicles, but the turnstile takings also fall by forty percent. The council argues that, in view of the reduction in revenue, the urinal is no longer worth the cost of keeping it open. Ez, Reynolds and Jason, their future employment prospects in jeopardy, must take a fresh look at their job and themselves.

From the Booker-nominated author of The Rationalist comes a touching and brilliantly funny exploration of a clash of cultures and morals set in the underground world of a men's public urinal. 160 pp.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Set almost exclusively in an underground London lavatory where "cottaging"-illicit assignations between men-is popular, Collins's brief novel explores British attitudes toward race, class and sexuality. Ezekial ("Ez") Murphy, a West Indian immigrant, begins work with two senior attendants, Jason and Reynolds, who are also non-native Londoners. The cottaging soon becomes enough of a problem that the attendants, "denizens of a separate republic," are told that they must either discourage the anonymous sexual liaisons or the restrooms will be shut down and their jobs terminated. When they take measures, however, traffic-and therefore income-is reduced considerably, creating a different set of problems. Collins tells much of the story through dialogue, in a lilting, effortless patois that serves as shorthand for Ez and his co-workers. Collins's prose is economical, its rhythms rapid, though its very tightness sometimes threatens to squeeze Ez's observations to invisibility. Bristling with invention as it explores the different ways people act out their lives, the novel is a worthy follow-up to Collins's The Rationalist, which was nominated for the 1993 Booker Prize. (Apr.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set almost exclusively in an underground London lavatory where "cottaging"illicit assignations between menis popular, Collins's brief novel explores British attitudes toward race, class and sexuality. Ezekial ("Ez") Murphy, a West Indian immigrant, begins work with two senior attendants, Jason and Reynolds, who are also non-native Londoners. The cottaging soon becomes enough of a problem that the attendants, "denizens of a separate republic," are told that they must either discourage the anonymous sexual liaisons or the restrooms will be shut down and their jobs terminated. When they take measures, however, trafficand therefore incomeis reduced considerably, creating a different set of problems. Collins tells much of the story through dialogue, in a lilting, effortless patois that serves as shorthand for Ez and his co-workers. Collins's prose is economical, its rhythms rapid, though its very tightness sometimes threatens to squeeze Ez's observations to invisibility. Bristling with invention as it explores the different ways people act out their lives, the novel is a worthy follow-up to Collins's The Rationalist, which was nominated for the 1993 Booker Prize. (Apr.) FYI: The Rationalist is to be made into a film directed by Michael Radford (Il Postino).
Kirkus Reviews
Collins, author of The Rationalist (1994), a Booker contender, shows himself once again to be a daring, unconventional, accomplished writer, with a quirky story of the life and times of a London public toilet.

Ez Murphy, far from his Jamaican home, is glad to have any job in the white man's world, even if it's cleaning urinals and stalls. He takes his new job seriously, learning the ropes from his supervisor Reynolds and co-worker Jason, who, like him, have emigrated from Jamaica, but before long he discovers that not all the business in the stalls is what it should be. Ez's place of employment is also a popular spot for "cottaging," the euphemistic term for gay sex used by the white lady from the local Council, which runs the toilet, when she drops in to inform Reynolds and his crew that their cleaning duties now extend to the moral as well as the physical sphere. They oblige by installing a fake surveillance camera—and in a matter of weeks the toilet's turnstile receipts drop by half. Back comes the lady, to inform them that with the decline in income one of them now must be let go, a cold act of white hypocrisy in the face of a job too well done. This prompts Rastaman Jason, already stung by having found a black man servicing a white in the course of their clean-up, to quit and go back to Jamaica. Ez sticks it out with Reynolds, and when the Councilwoman returns yet again with the news that the toilet is to be closed, the two join meager resources to rent the place as their own business, keeping it open and returning it to prosperity by making a few eminently practical, and highly tolerant, decisions.

A deceptively simple tale with an unorthodox setting and near- zero commercial potential, Collins's novel covers considerable social ground in a brief span—and is eminently successful.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780714530284
  • Publisher: Boyars, Marion Publishers, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 156
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.19 (h) x 0.71 (d)

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