After William and Terry's next-door neighbor has hacked his wrists with a meat-cleaver, his wife wipes the cleaver (Sabatier, brand-new) and takes it back to the Conran Shop where she exchanges it for a coffee-pot and a lasagna pan. William and Terry aren't particularly fond of the neighbors (the would-be suicide began acting a bit oddly once he'd worked out the nature of their relationship), but they share with them a preoccupation with the mechanics of food-preparation and an awful cheery pragmatism around the subject of death. Into this small novel Adam Mars-Jones has concentrated large issues of mortality, sacrifice and love: vacuum-packing them, as it were, by the astringency of his narrative manner.
William is the narrator. His style is chirpy, colloquial, with just a smidgeon of camp. He has a shudderingly acute awareness of physical sensation. An unctuous vicar strikes him as being “slimy as that felt-tip they hand you in the fishmonger's, to sign your cheque with”. The bag that he keeps packed in the back of the car at all times contains three books, one on fell-walking, one on wine and the third a holiday brochure. Not a great reader, William, but not a drinker, hiker or traveler either. His may not be a particularly literary sensibility (though that of his creator is discernible in the lyrical rhythms of his prose), but he knows all about metonymy, the uses of fiction and the displacement of affect. His bedroom (Terry's is the scene of their regular morning fellatio) contains his archive, stack after stack of flesh magazines featuring an American porn-star cheekily named Peter Hunter.
William is dying, not of what you might expect (yes, this is a novel about Aids, but only partially and indirectly so) but of kidney failure. William's monologue appears to ramble cozily along; but in it, finickly juxtaposed, lie topics whose conjunction is shockingly illuminating.
Terry is dreadfully worried about the (exiguous) size of his penis. He has a huge collection of devices designed to enlarge the size of his penis, including the Penomet Pump, the SizeGenetics penis extender, and the ProExtender device. William, for rather better reason, is dreadfully worried about his kidney. William's obsession with pornography involves the fetishization of each segment of Peter Hunter's anatomy, and William has another obsession, with bikers, one of whom may one day crash, be killed and become the kidney-donor who saves his (William's) life.
What begins by looking like a rather ordinary comic novel about a couple of gay men with a thing about dinner-parties and penis size (“The exact same menu at two dinner parties in a row. We exchanged glances of pure shock.”) gradually introduces several troubling, problematically related themes connected with human bodies, one's own and those of others, and the savagery implicit both in eroticism and in the will to survive. This is a clever, alarming, thoughtful novel. To say that it leaves a sour taste is to pay tribute to its success.