Cloyne Court

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Cloyne Court (Paperback) By (author) Dodie Katague, book reviewStudent days are for many people the best days of their lives. Free at last from parental supervision and not yet encumbered by the responsibilities of work, marriage and mortgages, the years at university can be fantastic – more so perhaps in the past before the introduction of massive student loans and tuition fees. Cloyne Court by Dodie Katague is a student ‘coming of age’ novel set in one of the wildest times and settings. As California turned on, tuned in and dropped out in the mid-1970s Berkeley students benefited from the widespread availability of drugs (many of them not yet illegal), access to the pill and plenty of alcohol and made the most of what life had to offer. It was a time before the shadow of AIDS fell across promiscuity and drug use when the sense of ‘anything goes’ was on the increase. At that time there was surely no place wilder or more easy-going than Cloyne Court – a co-ed (i.e, mixed gender) student co-operative.

Katague lived in Cloyne Court between 1977 and 1979 and his book is a thinly veiled autobiographic account of his time there, told through the experiences of his character ‘Derek Marston’. I can’t help but assume that this is one of those accounts based firmly in fact but with the names changed to protect the not-so-innocent. Considering that he’s now a Deputy District Attorney, perhaps some of his student day experiences might have been better kept quiet.

Whilst the well to do students competed to get into the fraternity and sorority houses, the less well off, more radical and those pursuing alternative lifestyles sought out Cloyne Court, one of the few places for cheap accommodation. The co-operative system meant that students worked together to perform many of the Court’s chores in order to keep costs down. With a determinedly avant garde approach to life, the co-op went further than most introducing mixed showers, mixed naked ‘hot tub’ sessions, mixed gender room mates, and even ready-rolled joints in the vending machine. Derek leaves his parental home to join a co-operative with dozens of militant lesbians, lots of nudists, plenty of drug users, and plenty of people squeezing every last drop of experience out of their student lives.

“…people behave in ways that most of us might prefer to avoid, but on the whole, it’s actually a rather endearing book.”

Some of the characters are very endearing – there’s an extraordinarily ‘well hung’ young man who spreads his affections around rather freely, one of Derek’s friends who passes himself off as a Frat boy whilst living in the co-op, and I enjoyed Derek’s hippy, guitar-strumming friend who assumes she can’t get a man so tries out Lesbianism without too much success. There are moments of great humour, such as the time that Derek accidentally turns up at a meeting of Cloyne Court’s ‘Women’s Group’ where one faction defends his right to stay and another asks him for the male perspective on the female orgasm (quite a challenge for our young virgin) or the time he gets his arm trapped in the condom machine.

Derek spends most of the book trying to win the heart of a girl who already has a boyfriend though that’s no bar to a relationship in Cloyne Court. Hidden away as her secret lover he’s clearly getting the grubby end of the stick and she’s a thoroughly unlikeable woman, conniving to play Derek and her boyfriend off one against the other.

There’s a lot of sex going on at Cloyne Court, some of it quite funny but when Derek finely gets his girl the sex is decidedly mechanical and described in far too much detail which made me cringe. The sex scenes are far to ‘squelchy and squirty’ for my liking –mechanical rather than erotic – and I felt rather embarrassed for the writer when I was reading them. There’s a lot to be said for the old cinematic technique of withdrawing to a view of waves crashing on the beach and it’s infinitely preferable to too much description of muscle contractions and ejaculations.

Reading the ‘blurb’ about Cloyne Court I feared a rather juvenile ‘Animal House’ approach to student life. What I got was a much more ‘grown up’ and balanced read. The book doesn’t shock because it’s clearly delivered from the perspective of personal experience. Some weird stuff happens, people behave in ways that most of us might prefer to avoid, but on the whole, it’s actually a rather endearing book. Derek represents the rather naïve observer, creating his testimony on the wild and wacky behaviour of others. Pretty much everything lies within the realms of what can be believed. My student days were a decade later and much more sedate but I enjoyed being reminded of student politics, fights over silly things like which brand of condoms to stock in the vending machine.

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Cloyne Court
by Dodie Katague

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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