Shelter by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins
Shelter is the debut novel from long time columnist, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, and it sets in action a frenetic and intense relationship between the protagonist Joe - a stereotypical builder from Auckland - and Leo - an older more refined and certainly enigmatic gay man with wonderful taste. The relationship is set against the backdrop of Auckland’s architectural landscape. The unlikely pair with an unlikely relationship with an unlikely context for a novel.
Yet, it works. The contrast of the two men and their different expectations and experiences sets up a love story where Joe learns about himself, and about music and literature that has, until that point, been somewhat separate from the life that Joe leads.
Jenkins, the great award winning non fiction writer and columnist, has created a world within a very well known world for Auckland readers and in doing so has drawn upon the sights and sounds of the city and represented it on the page with flourishes. The descriptions of some of the key sites from an architectural perspective alone was a fascinating exploration of the big city.
It is true to say that Jenkins writing has always been at the more narrative or creative side of non fiction writing so, perhaps, the jump to placing characters into settings that he already knew well from his columns in the various publications, may not have been such a leap. Some points in the novel still have that columnist feel about them and add to the complexities of both the narrative, and the style of writing.
The novel reads well and moves through the two decade time span without the typical jumpiness that can come from this passage of time. There is a sharpness to the dialogue and a wittiness to the conversations throughout the novel. This sets up a thoroughly entertaining connection between people and Auckland itself.
Shelter is as much a love story for Auckland as it is for the two main characters - Joe and Leo. While it is about the complications of that love story of the two men, it is the changing times of 1994 (with references to the great Holmes show of the day) and the way the world develops over the next twenty years for the LGBTQI+ community.
Jenkins takes a complex story and wrestles with some overarching questions such as the meaning of love and of happiness. But it is the association of love and place that is lamented with the destruction of some of those key points of interest in the Auckland CBD. Jenkins has long written about form and design in the Auckland skyline, and that translates into the fictional world with ease. His romantic view of the city is really accentuated and draws the reader into the world of the past and to view it differently.
Reviewer: Chris Reed