Bi Bookshelf: You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It

BCN 116 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 116, December 2012

Book review: You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It
By Kieron Blake

I’m a polyamorous reader:  I belong to  – count ‘em – three book groups.  Two of these have a queer agenda, but despite my depth and breadth of reading, when asked to suggest a ‘bi’ book, I was somewhat stumped. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to be asked to read what was billed as a black bi book.

Kieron Blake’s ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It’ deals with both sexuality and race/culture in equal measure. Its main protagonist (though possibly not ‘hero’), Michael, is a young black buck who, from the start, describes his mixed feelings regarding his own mixed sexuality, compounded by negative media portrayals, internalised cultural norms and bad experiences he encounters during this Bildungroman (aka coming of age story).

Its initial tone is biographical, conversational, begging that most tantalising of questions, to what extent it’s based on personal experience.   This is also a young(er) persons book: not only due to cultural references (who else remembers Andi Peters?), but none of the major characters are out of their  twenties.  Linguistically, it also employs appropriate street slang, but not to the detriment of comprehensibility (I did have to check the phrase ‘chirps’, but this just probably tells you more about my own sorry life!)

This is essentially Michael’s story, although the narrative flits between him three other characters recounting their own perspectives in the first person (clearly stated in the chapter headings, to avoid  confusion).  Both male and female voices felt authentic, and whilst the plot was driven by a few foreseeable ‘convenient’ consequences (convenient for the story rather than the characters – Blake makes the characters sweat to show us what they are made from), the drama remained believable.  And there is considerable amount of it neatly packed into these 98 pages of text, broken into 30 short chapters.  Ideal, therefore, for bus journeys, or other interruption-prone reading scenarios.

‘Ah, but are there any sexy shenanigans afoot?’ Yes there are, and they are not coyly skirted around, but these do not overwhelm the read.  The characters  have both grey matter and genitalia, even if they do sometimes confuse the two.

As you may guess from the title (‘can’t’ is a giveaway), this isn’t what you might call a ‘feel good’ book – the best  any of the leading roles can hope for at its conclusion is contentment, rather than true happiness, but one feels that Michael, at least has come to terms with his own nature, and that of his circumstances.  And for this, I’m glad.  To have a happy ever after ending would have been too pat, and have undermined the reality created within the text.

Overall, it was refreshing to be presented with a character who was not portrayed as ‘just having a dabble’, or who was ‘gay really’, as is so often the case – the author credits the reader with the intelligence and ability to be able to remain unconfused by bisexuality (presumably marketing it at that audience).
Sarah Spilsbury

Editor’s note: this title is available for the kindle by download from amazon.co.uk – and as a paperback from amazon.com. I don’t know why it’s like that!