To Kill A Time by Stanlee Keefe is an arresting novel which encapsulates what it was like to be a gay man growing up in the 1980’s, having to navigate the subtleties of the Dublin gay scene with all its clandestine grittiness and shaded secrecy. Yet all is not darkness, there is great beauty within this book, including a depiction of a deeply heartfelt and moving love story.
The book begins like a science fiction novel, reminiscent of a hostile earth seen through the eyes of an outsider, but before long reveals that its events are all too real. It opens with a horrifying scene which many readers will recognise: the brutal 1983 murder of a man in Fairview park, by a gang of teenage boys.
Offering an often viscerally atmospheric portrait of Dublin along a specific timeline, the novel weaves real historical events, such as the first Pride, decriminalisation, and the mobilisation of a community for change, in and out between the fictional life events of the protagonist Fran.
Fran’s past has left him seemingly unable to love. A successful playwright and author, he has the life he once only dreamed of, but lacks the companionship he has always craved. Often alone, or walking Bloom-like through familiar Dublin ground, Fran cannot avoid getting sucked into a never-ending swirl of memories, which tell the story of his struggle alongside the community’s. The narration jumps constantly from the present to different points in the past, keeping the reader alert as they fill in the gaps themselves.
Detailing everything from the struggles of a community often at war with itself to internalised homophobia, the novel clearly displays how crushing it is to be constantly in conflict. Often philosophical about the passing of time, Fran feels like he is outside of life. The story is not without its triumphs though, as we see how the community came together to make great change, in tandem we see how Fran himself changes, opening up to the possibility of love. The novel reaches a poignant climax on the day of the 2015 marriage referendum, ending on an emotional high.
At its heart, To Kill A Time is a tale of a lost man on a gradual journey of self-acceptance. The twists and turns which this journey encounters take us through Fran’s personal history and battle with his sexuality, and the struggle of a community to accept itself in all its many variations. Whatever else, it forces anyone who knows the city to view it through an entirely different, and not entirely comfortable, lens. It is a page turner of great heart and even greater storytelling.
This review appeared in the November Issue of GCN (No. 359). You can read the rest of the issue here.
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