Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey – Jack Scott (Summertime Publishing)

To buy the book visit the author’s website.

In the 1961 Broadway production of Noël
Coward’s musical, Sail Away, Elaine Stritch, cast in the role of
world-weary cruise director Mimi Paragon, sang the eleven o’clock number in
which she asked the titular question, “Why do the wrong people travel . . .
when the right people stay back home?” 
If Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies is ever made into a movie,
Stritch’s song could easily play over the credits.  The song captures the mood of Scott’s memoir
quite well.   

Perking the Pansies tells the story of Jack and Liam (author
and author’s husband), who quit their jobs in London—because working for a
living is simply sucking the life from them—sell their house, and move to
Turkey where they had honeymooned and vacationed over the past several
years.  As they try to set up a life,
however, they discover that the expat community is simply the wrong kind of
people, whose only goal in life seems to be the frustration and annoyance of
our stalwart protagonists.  The song
would also fit the high-camp, arch-gay sensibility Scott performs as an author
(despite his frequent protests that he will not be stereotyped by the awful,
homophobic expats).  And it’s not so
far-fetched that the book could find its way to a movie deal:  according to the author’s biography, the
memoir started as an “irreverent blog” and became a book only because “a
growing worldwide audience clamoured for” it. 
Who knows, they might clamour for a movie next.

It feels a bit odd to review a
memoir.  After all, given the book’s
disclaimer that it is based on actual persons and events, and given the fact
that the author and the narrator share the same name, to discuss characters in
the book is to discuss actual people in the world.  And, I must confess, as I read the book, I
found myself asking if Jack (the narrator, not the author) is one of the kind
of people who should travel or who should stay back home.  Although he is quite insistent that the
expats in Turkey are simply awful, he seems less aware that he shares many of
their traits.  For example, Jack’s
arch-enemies in the book are a former retail clerk, Chrissy, and her brash,
wealthy husband, Bernard.  Jack and Liam
hate Chrissy and Bernard because of the latter’s negativity and their sense of
national superiority.  With absolutely no
trace of irony, Jack—in both dialogue and through narration—says awful things
about these two characters, and virtually everyone else he and his husband
encounter, and never let an opportunity pass to point out that when it comes to
cleanliness, modern conveniences, ritual observances, gender politics and
respect for sexual variance, Britain is simply so much better on every front
than Turkey—even while recognizing the natives tend to be nicer to Jack and
Liam than the expats do.

Even the most striking point of drama in
the novel—Alan and Charlotte’s attempt to adopt a girl from a local woman—is
not spared an imperialist obliviousness. 
Although Jack seems suspicious of the adoption at the beginning of the
memoir, he and Liam fall in love with the little girl as events unfold, and
when local authorities begin to question the legitimacy of the adoption, they
are characterized as monstrous interlopers. 
Given recent queer critiques of transnational adoption, as well as the
very genuine risks of illegitimate child trafficking, the unapologetic “how
dare they?” tone of this narrative thread seemed incredibly problematic.   Similarly, near the beginning of the memoir,
when friends caution them about the dangers of living as openly gay men in a
Muslim country, Jack and Liam dismiss their friends as narrow-minded bigots,
but when the limitations and dangers of Turkey come to the fore, Jack and Liam
seek to impose their London/Soho gay identity on the local culture—because, of
course, urban European performances of gay identity are the only way to be gay,
and Jack and Liam have every right to transport every detail of their former
life to their new home.  After all, what
else is money—and a favorable exchange rate—good for?  On this front, I couldn’t help but think of
the long history of European travel narratives (think Forster, Lawrence, Gide,
Barthes), where “exotic” locales are places of sexual awakening and
adventure.  The memoir shows hints of
being aware of this tradition, but with no sense of having learned the lessons
of post-colonial critiques of it. 

In the latter third of the novel, there is
a slight shift as Jack and Liam move from the expat community to a more
“authentic” Turkish locale.  Here, they
make friends with some locals and their life improves.  Of course, the “improvement” of their life
comes because they find people who share their values, who have “modern”
sensibilities, and who offer them generous hospitality (so they can more
effectively stretch their meager savings). 
In this latter portion, the quality of the writing also improves.  I found the last two chapters, for example,
incredibly moving, funny and touching—and stylistically more engaging..  I wish that this Jack (as narrator and
author) had been more in control from the beginning.

I wonder, though, if I’m not a
sufficiently astute reader.  Given the
high-camp moments sprinkled throughout the memoir, is it fair to say that it
has no touch of irony?  Does Scott mean
to satirize himself by showing just how similar he and Liam are to Chrissy and
Bernard?  Should the subtle references to
the European travel/coming-of-age novel, given the narrator’s superficial
positivity regarding Turkey, nudge the reader toward a critique of the memoir’s
neocolonialist sensibility?  Is the
entire memoir offered as an ironic self-critique of an urban,
upper-middle-class, first world, modernist, colonialist gay male sensibility
and its failure to sympathetically engage difference, a kind of performative
self-indictment of the reader and the narrator for the ways in which they turn
their nose up at a culture with a different set of values, practices and
orientations?  Perhaps.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

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