Back in 2021, when I read Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, I expressed an interest in this book, Edinburgh, largely because of its title. As I said then, ‘the Edinburgh connection in the novel didn’t survive the writing and editing process, but he kept the title anyway.’ There is, in fact, a tangential character in this who has a loose connection to the city, but it’s not relevant.
What we have is a bildungsroman, the story of a boy becoming a man, knowing he’s gay from an early age, and going through various experiences both because of that fact and having nothing to do with it.
But about halfway through, the first-person narrative switches to a different character’s first-person narrative, which caused me some confusion. The sections are headed with the name of the narrator, but since there is only this one change, then a change back for the last quarter, it wasn’t immediately obvious what was going on.
That was OK though. What I didn’t enjoy so much was a kind of allusiveness that really became vagueness, which at times made it slightly hard to see what he was getting at. Especially in the last quarter.
And that last quarter is the most difficult and problematic part of the whole. See, early on, the first narrator is abused, along with several classmates, by a teacher. This doesn’t seem to have much effect on the narrator, though it does on some of the other victims.
But in the end the main narrator becomes an abuser himself; of the other narrator, who is linked to the whole story in a way that is, frankly, too coincidental. And it all ends in a kind of unresolved ambiguity which I found left a bad taste.
All in all, I preferred his nonfiction.