The Loss of Innocence by Jay Mandal

A collection of poignant short stories ranging from a two-minute read to longer tales of ordinary people leading ordinary lives until they fall in love and their lives become, for a little while at least, extraordinary. Written with tenderness, humour and compassion, some of the stories are heart-warming, whilst others will break your heart.

The Loss of Innocence and Other Short Stories is a compilation of twenty-eight short stories by acclaimed British author Jay Mandal. The stories are of varying lengths, some averaging ten pages while others offer vignettes of one or two pages. The overarching themes of this collection are the quest for and loss of love with the full array of accompanying human emotions, including, loneliness, insecurity, longing, fear, hope and joy.

The stories are not contextualized. Instead they provide the reader with an intimate glimpse into slices of gay life and love through exemplary dialogue and narration throughout. It is as if the reader is invited to listen in on a series of conversations and exchanges between the protagonists of each story, with dialogue that is so well crafted it serves as the main source of characterization.

While I enjoyed all the stories in this collection there are a few that were deeply touching.

The introductory story of the same title, A Loss of Innocence, tells of the hopes of first love as Michael, a shy and inexperienced twenty-three year old, and Max, a professor at the university, form a friendship, and through this Michael begins to accept himself and the possibilities of being with Max. But Michael’s hopes are shattered and his innocence lost when he takes that first step only to be met with an unwelcome surprise.

Second Class Male is the story of Maurice, a fellow with virtually non-existent self-esteem for whom life holds nothing but one disappointment after another. His loneliness and sense of alienation is heart-achingly palpable. In Clothes Maketh the Man, the author reminds us of our need to be accepted and loved for who and what we truly are, regardless of our outward appearance. Both Many Truths and Bookends deal with May/December relationships and the fear of taking the plunge thereby risking the loss of love. All For The Best is a bittersweet story of the realities of love and relationships in the age of HIV/AIDS. This story broke my heart as Adrian and Guy try to forge a relationship but ultimately go their separate ways because of Guy’s reticence to subject Adrian to the pain of his illness.

In the final story of this compilation, A Quiet Life, Lawrence leads a very structured, quiet and solitary life and has a strict schedule that he adheres to in respect of his activities. A chance meeting with Alan who has recently broken up with his boyfriend disrupts the familiar and safe patterns of Lawrence’s life and throws him into a world of human interaction. Although inexperienced and somewhat tentative at first, Lawrence begins to trust his new found comfort and ease in this very different life until Alan pulls the rug out from under him.

The book summary is most accurate in its description of this compilation of stories in that they are poignant and written with a tender, compassionate and thoughtful hand. Some are indeed humorous and whimsical and will have you laughing out loud, some are bittersweet and yet others are heart breaking. In this sense, this collection is a testament to the full spectrum of realities of gay life, love and relationships.

Jay Mandal has been referred to as Britain’s answer to Armistead Maupin and on a level with author Edmund White. While I have not yet had the pleasure of reading Maupin or White and therefore cannot provide an opinion on this, I can unequivocally say that Jay Mandal is an exceptionally gifted author with a unique writing style and voice in his own right.

I highly recommend Jay Mandal’s The Loss of Innocence and Other Short Stories without any reservation, as it is an outstanding collection of stories.

The Loss of Innocence and Other Short Stories by Jay Mandal is available at Amazon.

NOTE: This review was originally published online by Rainbow Reviews.

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