*I received a free ARC of this novella with thanks to the author and Nathan at Inkandescent. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Twenty-four-year-old Billy is beautiful and sexy. Albert – The Pharmacist – is a compelling but damaged older man, and a veteran of London’s late ’90s club scene. After a chance meeting in the heart of the London’s East End, Billy is seduced into the sphere of Albert. An unconventional friendship develops, fuelled by Albert’s queer narratives and an endless supply of narcotics. Alive with the twilight times between day and night, consciousness and unconsciousness, the foundations of Billy’s life begin to irrevocably shift and crack, as he fast-tracks toward manhood. This story of lust, love and loss is homoerotic bildungsroman at its finest.
The Pharmacist is a short, contained story, but incredibly powerful.
With a very limited number of characters and settings – mainly Billy and Albert, and their respective flats – there is an intimate, almost claustrophobic feel to the story, which mirrors the unhealthy and isolated nature of the character’s relationships with each other.
At first, I assumed this was a story of corruption of innocence. Billy, young and naive, uncertain in his first long-term relationship, meets older man Albert, who introduces him to drugs, literature and music that expand his horizons, but ultimately send him on a downward spiral into addiction.
I was right, but very wrong. Slowly it becomes clear that Billy’s propensity to addiction was always there in his unhealthy relationships with everything from alcohol to art; Albert merely offered him a new outlet. Also, surprisingly, it is the older, drug-peddling man who turns out to be the ingenue here, as he offers his own experiences of emotional, physical and intellectual pleasure gently and openly, only to come up against the bright, hard edges of modern youth culture.
On the surface this is a story about fucking, getting fucked up, fucking up. Below that is a sad, sweet story about vulnerability, loneliness, and the struggle to get through a hard life with our softer feelings intact.
Intense, brilliant and disturbing, The Pharmacist uses the novella form to deliver a mind-opening dose of hedonism and unhappiness.
Albert stands, moves to the writing bureau, pulls open the front and lifts out a tiny bag of white tablets, shaking out a handful before disappearing through a beaded curtain into the kitchen. A moment later, he returns with two pint glasses of water and sits down next to Billy. Albert places his hand over the table and lets the tablets fall onto the glass surface. For a moment, Billy looks at them. Then he leans over and picks one up, rolls it between his thumb and forefinger and examines its tiny logo.
‘Mitsubishi. Bona doobs!’
‘Eh?’ Billy misses the slang again.
‘Don’t you know your Polari, Darling Boy? Doobs. Drugs. These are good ones. Pure MDMA. Lovely trip.’
– Justin David, The Pharmacist
The Pharmacist is available on Amazon right now!