There is much to admire in Paul Mendez’ semi-autobiographical debut novel Rainbow Milk, a vibrant exploration of sexuality, race and religion set in the UK across generation ... Although the opening section is only 40 odd pages of a lengthy novel, it stands alone as a virtuosic piece of writing – urgent, original and heartbreaking ... Mendez’ ear for dialect gets us close to his characters. Norman’s voice is sympathetic and convincing ... The problem with Rainbow Milk is a baggy middle section whose shocking subject matter grows tiresome by the book’s final third. Jesse finds work as a rent boy in London, the details of which are initially related in powerful, sensual scenes. Disgust drips from the page in a grotesque set piece with a drugged-up client in a grimy flat. There are numerous encounters in bathrooms and nightclubs depicted in language that is not easily forgotten ... After a while, though, the obsessive level of sexual detail – there are more bulges and dicks in this book than there are hot dinners – lessens the impact. Crucial moments get lost amid the memories ... Pacing is a big issue, and while Mendez is clearly a talented writer, the less interesting parts of Rainbow Milk – the intricacies of the service industry, the views about his favourite music, a rambling episode at a publisher’s house, an overly long lunch break with friends – leave us longing for the brilliance of earlier. Published by Dialogue in an initiative to give a platform to underrepresented writers, Rainbow Milk has much to recommend it. Much like its title, it is a bright, brash colourful read by an author who has plenty to say for himself.
a novel that does what great debuts do – bringing an originality of voice and vision to the form, refreshing our ideas of what is possible in fiction ... These two stories build into a novel of huge power and emotional impact, written in language that is sharp, distinctive and often beautiful. 2020 has been a year of superb debuts and Rainbow Milk is among the best.
[An] erotic and fearlessly explicit debut ... the impact of Mendez’s frank descriptions of sex acts is not amplified through multiple tellings. Rather, it suffers diminishing returns. The prose is more rewarding when recounting, with tenderness, how Jesse arrives on the streets ... The most successful areas of this immersive semi-autobiographical story are where it explores the intersection between Jesse’s performance of sex and his performance of blackness ... his emotional intelligence is stunted, and Mendez shows how it’s possible to find a route to self-knowledge through an excited interrogation of song lyrics. The downward slide of unprotected sex and hedonism, which results in physical injuries, leads Jesse to have an epiphany of sorts.