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Vacuum-Packed, the stark new novel by Robin Newbold, is a real hell of a read. The reader tiptoes in bare feet through the jagged wreckage of shattered illusions and shattered lives, from the club-drug-porn scene of London to the infamous sexotic dives of Bangkok.

Jamie and Craig, two gay London residents in their early 20s, struggle through the stark and ugly final years of the 20th century on a morbidly fascinating journey of self-indulgence. This uneasy glimpse into the seamy underbelly of a drug-addled, sex-obsessed gay subculture, firmly implicates the reader as voyeur and cohort.

As the tale unfolds, the couple have split-up. Jamie, enraged by Craig’s confession of his HIV positive status, abandons Craig to ponder his uncertain future alone.

For Jamie it is just one more let-down in a life full of disappointments. He yearns to be hip and magazine-cool but, while he is cute and buff, there's always someone hotter around to spoil his ego-trip. Failing to live up to his own socio-economic expectations he finds it easier to get lost in a haze of drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, Craig, hurt and disillusioned, boards a plane for Thailand.

Intent on experiencing Bangkok's notorious gay life, Craig takes up residence in the Malaysia Hotel, and quickly immerses himself, from the steamy corridors of Babylon sauna to the Big Mango's lust-filled sweet shops, where he self-destructively gorges.

Well written, with a confident voice and remarkable descriptive details, the novel doesn't flinch from the demoralizing, sour taste in the mouth after sampling Craig and Jamie’s world. In this bleak moral terrain, the reader is left to ponder their own potential train wrecks from a safer distance. Gritty, thought-provoking stuff for those brave enough to face the mirror.

Click here to order Vacuum-Packed
(also available at amazon.co.uk and barnesandnoble.com)

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