Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cloyne Court

Cloyne Court by Dodie Katague
(Three Clover Press / 0-981-95533-9 / 978-0-981-95533-9 / December 2009 / 328 pages / $15.95 / Amazon $11.48)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

Cloyne Court is billed as a kind of real-life Animal House – a nostalgic memoir-novel about a rollicking all-gender-and-orientation cooperative residential house in Berkeley in the late 1970s, after the flower-power generation had moved on to something resembling an adult life practically everywhere else. Derek Marsdon has just turned 18, a college student, commuting from his family home and wrestling with incomprehensible academic courses – and much else besides.

Spurred by an impulse and the advice of an odd and witchy old woman he sees on the train going home one day, he decides to move into a college residence – and thereby takes the first steps onto the necessary path of becoming something a little more than a teenager. Cloyne Court is, as I interpreted it, not so much an account of four years of carefree pranks, debauchery and substance abuse with a little academic enrichment squeezed in between – but a rambling account of how a young man first encounters the larger world, that world outside the shelter of a family. Going to college, joining the military, or generally moving out into the world of work on our own is the time when most of us are establishing an identity of our own, something beyond just being a son or a daughter, an extension of our parents. This is where we first encounter straight-on a lot of things: all the pitfalls of sexuality and sexual attraction, of responsibility for ourselves, of coping with a bureaucracy which (if we let it!) would control our adult lives, and the randomness of fate. We encounter people very, very different from ourselves on a great many levels, we first cope with love and unrequited devotion, acquire junk furniture with a strange history, taste adult beverages, and get caught up in a student demonstration when all we really needed to do was turn in some necessary paperwork. All these things happen, not to mention that strange camaraderie that arises when you spend a great deal of time with other individuals in an odd environment, where everyone knows the rituals and the place, as well as the importance of seemingly inconsequential things.

Derek wanders through those undergraduate years, feeling some of the pains and disappointments – but always with a steady and observant eye, and a whole heart. One senses that he came through as a complete and secure adult – and that the author had an unerring eye and no little sympathy for those years – which now and again, may have been rather embarrassing for the adults who emerged from the antics of their college years, especially if they now have near-adult children of their own. There is something about those first years which keeps a hold on us for the rest of our adult lives, sometimes making us wince, and sometimes brushed with the golden highlights of nostalgia, something which the writer has caught very well.

See also: Celia's BNN Review
Dodie Katague's Website
Dodie Katague's Authors Den Page

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