“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Dodie Katague / ISBN: 0981955339 / Publication Date: 2009 / Publisher: Three Clover Press „
~When student life was very different from today~
Student days are for many people the best days of their lives. Free at last from parental supervision and not yet encumbered by the responsibilities of work, marriage and mortgages, the years at university or college can be fantastic if faced with an open mind and plenty of energy. Perhaps this was more true in the days before the introduction of massive student loans and tuition fees.
Cloyne Court by Dodie Katague is a student 'coming of age' novel set in one of the wildest times and settings. As California turned on, tuned in and dropped out in the mid-1970s, Berkeley students benefited from the widespread availability of drugs (many of them not yet illegal), access to the pill and in the days before the US got very prissy about age limits, there was plenty of alcohol to go around. Katague and his fellow students made the most of what life had to offer - squeezed it until the pips squeaked. It was a unique time when the aura of "anything goes" applied in an era before the shadow of AIDS fell across the twin issues of promiscuity and drug use. At that time there was surely no place wilder or more easy-going than Cloyne Court - a co-ed (i.e, mixed gender) student co-operative.
The author lived in Cloyne Court between 1977 and 1979 and his book is a thinly disguised autobiographic account of his time there, told through the experiences of his character 'Derek Marston'. I can't help but assume that this is one of those accounts based firmly in fact but with the names changed to protect the not-so-innocent. Considering that he's now a Deputy District Attorney, perhaps some of his student day experiences might have been better kept quiet.
~Fraternities or Freedom~
Whilst the well to do students competed to get into the fraternity and sorority houses, the less well off, more sexually or politically radical, and those pursuing alternative lifestyles sought out Cloyne Court. It was one of the few places for cheap accommodation because the 'co-operative' system meant that students worked together to perform many of the Court's chores in order to keep costs down. With a determinedly avant garde approach to life, the co-op went further than most student accommodation could ever have dared. I remember my student days in the 1980s when you still had to sign 'guests' in and out of your accommodation and sex officially didn't exist. Cloyne Court introduced mixed showers, mixed naked 'hot tub' sessions, mixed gender room mates, and even ready-rolled joints in the vending machine.
Derek leaves his parental home to join a co-operative with dozens of militant lesbians, lots of nudists, plenty of drug users, and plenty of people squeezing every last drop of experience out of their student lives. Some of the characters are very endearing - there's an extraordinarily 'well hung' young man who spreads his affections around rather freely. One of Derek's friends passes himself off as a Frat boy whilst living in the co-op, running parallel identities to survive his complex social life. I particularly enjoyed Derek's hippy, guitar-strumming friend who assumes she can't get a man so 'tries out' lesbianism without too much success. There are moments of great humour, such as the time that Derek accidentally turns up at a meeting of Cloyne Court's 'Women's Group' where one faction defends his right to stay and another asks him for the male perspective on the female orgasm (quite a challenge for our young virgin). Another highlight is the time he gets his arm trapped in the condom machine.
~Young and Dumb~
Derek spends most of the book trying to win the heart of a girl who already has a boyfriend though that's no bar to a relationship in Cloyne Court. Hidden away as her secret lover, he's clearly getting the grubby end of the stick and she's a thoroughly unlikeable woman, conniving to play Derek and her boyfriend off one against the other.
There's a lot of sex going on at Cloyne Court, some of it quite funny (intentionally or otherwise) but when Derek finely gets his girl the sex is decidedly mechanical and described in far too much detail which made me cringe. The sex scenes are far to 'squelchy and squirty' for my liking -mechanical and functional rather than erotic - and I felt rather embarrassed for the writer when I was reading them. There's a lot to be said for the old cinematic technique of withdrawing to a view of waves crashing on the beach and it's infinitely preferable to too much description of muscle contractions and ejaculations.
~Better than I expected~
Reading the 'blurb' about Cloyne Court I feared a rather juvenile 'Animal House' approach to student life. What I got was a much more 'grown up' and balanced read. The book doesn't really shock because it's clearly delivered from the perspective of personal experience. Some weird stuff happens, people behave in ways that most of us might prefer to avoid, but on the whole, it's actually a rather endearing book. Derek represents the rather naïve observer, creating his testimony on the wild and wacky behaviour of others. Pretty much everything lies within the realms of what can be believed.
My student days were a decade later and much more sedate but I enjoyed being reminded of student politics, fights over silly things like which brand of condoms to stock in the vending machine and the perils of unrequited infatuation and doomed love affairs. It was a much more enjoyable read than I had expected.
My kindle copy was supplied by the author via Curiousbookfans.co.uk where an earlier version of this review can be found.