Sutherland, Luke 1971(?)-
SUTHERLAND, Luke 1971(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1971. Education: Attended University of Glasgow.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—Merric Davidson, Marsh Agency, 11 Dover St., London W1S 4LJ England.
CAREER: Songwriter, musician, and writer. Vocalist with bands Long Fin Killie, c. 1990s, and Mogwai; founder of concept band, Bows; recordings include (with Long Fin Killie) Houdini, Valentino, and Amelia; and (with Bows) Blush and Cassidy, 2001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whitbread First Novel Award nomination, 1998, for Jelly Roll.
Jelly Roll, Anchor (London, England), 1998.
Sweetmeat, Doubleday (London, England), 2002.
Venus as a Boy, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2004.
also author of lyrics for songs performed by bands Bows and Long Fin Killie.
ADAPTATIONS: Jelly Roll was filmed by Fraser Macdonald.
SIDELIGHTS: As a black man raised on the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland, Luke Sutherland has developed a unique perspective on the nature of life that is reflected in his fiction. A musician and songwriter as well as an author, he has earned success in both fields. His fiction, however, taps into his experience of racism in the far north of Scotland and the magical, mystical, evocative landscape of the islands in which he was raised. "Being black, adopted by white parents, and having black, white and mixed-race siblings would have raised a few eyebrows pretty much anywhere in the mid-1970s," explained Sean Merrigan on the Spoiled Ink Web site, "however, the insular Orcadian community into which his family moved in 1976 turned out to be particularly hostile." "My family was a miniature league of nations I guess you could say," the author told Bookmunch online interviewer Jerome de Groot, "white parents, white older sister, there is me, my little sister is black and my younger brother's mix-race white Asian, so wherever we went we were going to attract attention." As the oldest of the family's adopted children, Sutherland "came in for a lot of hassle," he told an interviewer for Dr.Drew.com. "I'm a fast runner. I also have the gift of the gab, so I'm able to talk myself out of trouble most of the time. I got bullied a bit up until I started getting bigger. Then people started leaving me alone and chatted to me from a distance."
Sutherland's experiences growing up in the Orkneys play a major role in his celebrated 2004 novel Venus as a Boy. The protagonist of the story, Desiree, is, at the time the tale begins, a prostitute living in London. But twenty years before, Desiree had been one of those young men who bullied Sutherland with racist taunts. "Siding with the bigots," explained Michael Arditti, reviewing the book for the Independent, "takes the pressure off him as an oddball and suspected 'pouf.'" Desiree, now dying, wants to make amends with Sutherland. By the time Sutherland is ready to forgive, however, Desiree—confined to a flat in Soho—has already succumbed to a rare affliction that has caused his body to turn to gold. He sends Sutherland a small legacy, consisting mainly of records and the bits and pieces of an autobiography—which turn out to be his own story of torment and passion that form the basis of Venus as a Boy.
The thing that makes Desiree special is that he has the gift to evoke passion in any partner of either sex. "Should he lay hands on you, or rather, should he lay you," explained Alice Ferrebe in her review of the novel for Scotland on Sunday, "you would tremble, wracked by visions of angels, orchards, trumpets and stars. He can floor a violent homophobe, make him helpless with love and lust." Desiree first comes into his power with a local girl named Tracy, who allows him to see what his gift makes her see, angels, orchards, and all. "When she leaves him for university," Ferrebe explained, "he goes to London and starts to sell himself in a complex transaction of masochism and redemption." Eventually Desiree ends up living in a cheap flat, victimized by a rough pimp who forces him to take hormones and other drugs that begin his dual transformation into both a woman and a golden corpse, wracked by hepatitis.
Many reviewers celebrated Sutherland's accomplishments in Venus as a Boy, particularly his evocation of the magical landscapes of the island of South Ronaldsay, where he grew up. "Again and again in this novel we come upon lines that have a kind of throw-away beauty," wrote Thomas Hodgkinson in the Independent, "as if Sutherland had so many of them he didn't feel the need to make a big deal out of any particular one." "We get an incredibly vivid portrait of the island: its treeless fields, its blinding stars," stated a Guardian contributor. "The strong emotions of Sutherland's difficult childhood suffuse every word." "A confident stylist with the chops to back up his gambles, Sutherland doesn't need to be flashy," declared Damien Weaver in a Bookslut.com review. "He is a graceful, effective storyteller, and he paints the Orkneys in particular with such fierce wonder that, after reading his descriptions, actually visiting the islands could only be a let-down."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian (Manchester, England), January 12, 1999, Emily Moore, interview with Sutherland, p. 4; March 27, 2004, "Heaven on Earth."
Independent, March 26, 2004, Thomas Hodgkinson, review of Venus as a Boy; April 21, 2004, Michael Arditti, review of Venus as a Boy.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of Venus as a Boy, p. 1421.
Lambda Book Report, May, 2004, Michael Graves, "Fast Love," p. 31.
Newsweek International, April 12, 2004, G. Brownell, review of Venus as a Boy, p. 57.
Northern Echo, May 11, 2004, Peta King, "The Power of Love," p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, February 9, 2004, review of Venus as a Boy, p. 56.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 2004, June Sawyers, review of Venus as a Boy.
Scotland on Sunday, March 14, 2004, Alice Ferrebe, "Venus with the Midas Touch."
Sunday Herald, March 7, 2004, Alan Taylor, "The Life and Death of Bleak Venus."
Allmusic.com,http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 20. 2005), "Luke Sunderland."
Bookmunch Web site,http://www.bookmunch.co.uk/ (October 28, 2004), Jerome de Groot, interview with Sunderland.
Dr.Drew.com,http://www.drdrew.com/ (October 28, 2004), "Bows and Whistles: An Interview with Luke Sutherland."
Re:mote Induction Web site,http://www.remoteinduction.co.uk/ (October 28, 2004), interview with Sunderland.
Strathmore and the Glens Web site,http://www.strathmoreglens.org/ (September 13, 2004), Luke Sutherland visit.*