Enter Oblivion is a complex novel with fascinating characters. It’s a look into the life of a group of gay men in London during the early 1980s. There are rockers, meatheads, skinheads, drug users, death, hope, fame, destruction, money, romance, despair and the early threat of AIDS. The writing is steeped in British culture and language giving the city setting a vibrant feel. The characters are all flawed, messy, and complicated. There is a romance but the heart of the story is about Vince’s journey into this unknown and compelling world parallel to pop star Jik O’Blivion’s own journey within that glittery masses.
The story has a weighty plot with equally careful writing. There are numerous literary comparisons and a verbosity to the prose that often had me re-reading several sections to understand the all the subtle nuances the story is trying to portray. There are meanings upon meanings and metaphors stacked on each other so the story is definitely not a superficial read. The pace keeps the plot and characters moving though and for all the complexity, the story isn’t difficult to read. It just takes more time to understand and really appreciate the full depth the writing is trying to get across. Sometimes this is chunky and weighty as the ending especially loses its impact under the overly obscure references.
For the most part, the complicated plot serves as a good backdrop to compelling characters. Vince and Jik share narrative duties as the perspective changes from one to the other. They are both broken, damaged men but not without redeeming qualities. Vince is a moody fighter from Brooklyn that left NY to get away from the Mob. He thinks he’s a tough guy but is often shown he’s not through encounters with a skinhead group with a grudge against Vince’s new friends. The four supporting characters – Nigel, John, Ian, Jezebel – are wonderful. They each offer something tangible and substantial to the story and to Jik and Vince. Jezebel is the most blatant and she’s used to advance the plot in many ways but Nigel is the real glue that holds the group together. I almost wish there was a story about Nigel and John.
Jik and Vince are self destructive in their own ways and I’m not quite sure I buy into their romance. They circle around each other for most of the book before finally getting together at the end – though no on page sex scenes – yet their romance feels rushed and manipulated in some ways. Jik is so careful and closed off I found it hard to believe Vince kept trying. I also wish there had been more to Vince’s mob connections as they only felt real and important towards the very end. Up to that point, they were easy to ignore and dismiss. Vince is a messy character full of arrogance and ignorance but it’s Jik’s fragility and vulnerability that really steals the entire story. Coupled with Jezebel’s strength and self awareness, they’re likely to be readers’ favorites.
Beyond the characters the early 1980’s scene is vividly recounted. The Billy Idol/David Bowie influence into rock and pop is heavily used as the gay club scene is offered in all its seedy glory. The glitz of gender bending makeup and risqué dancing on stage is juxtaposed with Vince’s formerly straight, tough guy persona. It dips Vince and the reader into that world so gradually that by the time Vince is fully immersed, the reader is as well. The culture is portrayed with all the good and bad, the look behind the curtain at transient fame and wealth. This setting is just as compelling as the characters and plot. Together it all combines to make a very interesting story and one that is very likely to stay with you for some time.
Despite the few problems and somewhat obscure writing at times, Enter Oblivion is a story I’ll definitely read again. I get the feeling I’ll learn more and more every time I read the novel, even perhaps getting something different out of it with each reading. It’s easily labeled gay fiction since the characters are all gay but the issues, setting, and relationships are much more than that narrow definition. The story may not be perfect but well worth reading and I recommend it.