Paul Sayer, 2 February 1989
George Hayim, candid homosexual masochist, globe-scampering self-gratifier, unabashed lifelong idler, one-book novelist, offers, for what it’s worth, his life story. Born in 1920, the son of an adulterous, wealthy Shanghai stockbroker whom he hated, and a Shanghai mother whom he adored, Hayim recalls an incident in his childhood when his father punished him for swearing by sticking a pin in his lip. As a result, he states: ‘Today, sexually I am totally oral.’ The scene is set for a number of acerbic discourses against Ellis Hayim, the father ‘whose burning eyes and gentle velvety voice belied a dry, cruel authority’, the same father who, often as a result of his son’s tantrums and blackmail, funded George Hayim’s uninterrupted indolence. The young Hayim rebels against his father’s hypocritical ‘thou shalt not’ dictums, and we see the emergence of his sexuality in his fascination with local soldiers and his heightened affection for a pack of Great Dane guard dogs. (If one can ignore the self-obsession, there is a lively wit at work.) Moving to England via Siberia, he clumsily strings together lighthearted descriptions of his well-caricatured family and entourage. He runs away from Harrow (attempting suicide as part of the flight) and eventually finds his way, inexplicably, to Trinity College, Cambridge. All the while, he scatters pointers to his gay future: ‘I thought Axel Viale was wonderful but I wasn’t prepared for rape … yet.’ Unbelievably, he is enrolled to assist with the war effort: ‘I never wanted to join the Navy to kill anyone, or to sink the Bismarck. I just thought it would be a turn on: a bunch of hard men bubbling away together in a pot. Also, navy blue is my best colour and I love dressing-up.’ In fact, his ship does sink the Bismarck, while our hero suffers seasickness, unaware of the heroics being performed on the upper decks.