The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell

It was with a certain degree of unease that I opened this book. I was on slippery ground: a vulnerable young boy and a homosexual man on the run. What could be more flammable? But my reservations were unfounded. This is a beautiful story, both in form and in content.

Neville is an 8-year-old boy, his mother free-lancing as a sex-worker. She isn’t a bad person or a bad mother, just hard on her luck, and she needs Neville out of the house while she receives and entertains her male companions. Neville wanders on the beach, fending off bad memories by counting sand crystals, the stars and all the steps he takes. He is alone and chased off by holiday-makers like a stray dog. He is alone until he meets Abbott.

Abbott is on the run. A homosexual man working with juvenile delinquents, he is a man treading a thin line. A small incident of vindictive homophobic cyberbullying tips him over the edge. He remembers his past transgressions and feels he is a hunted animal. He escapes to a sleepy seaside town and takes residence in a beach hut inherited from his aunt.

Neville and Abbott collide with each other and even though Abbott tries to keep the boy at arm’s length he succumbs to the boy’s irresistible charm and they form close friendship. This is where I began to chew my nails and clench my fists, and turn the pages faster and faster because I could just see and smell what was coming next: a catastrophe. Keen eyes of local vigilantes were watching them round the clock, small town with all its prejudices and bigotry was breathing down their necks. And Abbott wasn’t going to conform. In fact, I began to think that maybe he hadn’t run from the long arm of the law, maybe it was the rotten society with its presumptions of guilt…

So, I am grateful for this story and delighted that I overcame my unease to read it. Apart from the vivid characterisation, the book is beautifully written. The small English seaside town comes to life in front of your very eyes, and pretends to fall asleep while it keeps one eye open, watching the goings-on. Join in the show – you won’t regret it.

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