This novella by Icelandic writer, Sjon, is an interesting exploration of a young man making his way in the world. Gay and prepared to take money for favours, our hero exists in Reykjavik in 1918 when a terrible flu epidemic hit the city.
This tragedy serves as a background to a story of a young man, Mani, who is in love with the cinema because it offers dreams of another life and who becomes an apprentice to a doctor during the worst of the crisis. He goes into houses to find people at the edge of death or, in some cases, finds their corpses instead.
Mani is not ashamed of being gay and enjoys his encounters with his men as much as he likes the cinema. This is not an anguished coming of age tale or rather the anguish is confined to the terrible events in the city. Yet, there is an encounter with a Danish sailor at the independence celebrations. It is this meeting that sends his life off in another direction. Mani may be happy to be gay but he lives in a society that does not share his pride.
In such a short book, Sjon covers issues of belonging, identity and the threat on society from outside. Flu, homosexuals and the cinema all act as alien influences in 1918 Reykjavik.
There is a coda that serves to connect the story to the author. It explains, at last, the sub-title of the book: The Boy Who Never Was.
This slight film from Michael Lucas is an exploration of what it means to be gay in modern Israel. Despite being slightly arch in its central conceit that the audience will be shocked by the idea that Israel is a modern country, welcoming to gay people, there are some interesting moments and the people featured come across as well adjusted individuals.
The two men getting married, surrounded by their family, were my favourites but there was also the couple parenting two boys, an Arab- Israeli journalist, and a host of talking heads all explaining that it was a wonderful country in which to be gay. The film director Eytam Fox was interviewed and he is always worth listening to. Most attention is given to Tel Aviv and there are many questions left unanswered by this film such as what is it like to be gay in a rural community or far away from the vibrant party scene?
An openly gay MP hosted a Pride event in the parliament near the start of the film and talked about the progress already made but the steps still needed. The film provides an entirely positive look at gay life in Israel which is no bad thing when most films in this arena have issues to face.
This powerful novel by Sebastian Barry spoke to my heart, not only because it tells the story of two men in love with each other, an easy love that did not bring each other heartache or soul- searching, but because it was a story of making your way in the world with all its difficulties in such an unassuming way. It is also a novel of identity, national as well as personal since this is America in the middle of the nineteenth century and the states are anything but united and the tribes that predated the white settlers are suffering from the move west.
Thomas McNulty and John Cole are in love. He has arrived in America from Sligo, Ireland by way of Quebec and fits in as a soldier since that is a way of earning a living. His love, John Cole, is an American he meets under a bush. Together they travel and earn a loving, first as dancers, dressed in female attire, and then as soldiers. Throughout the story Thomas is fluid in the expression of his gender, something that has deeper importance as the book reaches the denouement. What never changes is their love for each other and their determination to stay together. This is something that is ‘understood’ by those around them if not always remarked on; it is never an issue. This is not a coming out novel with the requisite angst!
The novel takes us to the frontier where ‘Indians’ are being forced from the land. Whatever Thomas McNulty thinks of this, he does his duty and in doing so becomes a surrogate parent with John Cole for Winona. It is the power of the writing that makes you want the very best outcomes for these characters despite the harsh conditions and historical events that seem sure to tear them all apart.
This is a novel to care about and one that uses the singular voice of Thomas McNulty to speak up for people who we now call gay but who then were just people in love. ‘Days Without End’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This documentary by film- maker Yariv Mozer is a sad portrait of the lives of three gay men adrift in Israel. The Palestinians are there because their lives are in danger if they stay at home. The danger comes, mostly, from their own families. In some cases the men came out to family members but it is also the case that exposure came from perceptions about their personalities or because they were caught with boyfriends.
There is a sadness to this story of men living under the radar in Tel Aviv, a city chosen because it is the most accepting of their lifestyles. Louie is an illegal, though, and he is regularly deported back to the border even though this places him in great danger each time. Fares enters the film when Louie is asked to help him. His family is actively searching for him, possibly to kill him, and it falls to other gay men to rescue him.
The third person in this film is Abdou, an out and proud Arab who believes his future lies in Europe where he may be better accepted. The gay rights group supporting the men believe this is the best route for young gay men who are not given permission to stay in Israel.
The film follows two of the three to Europe where they, individually, hope to build new lives but they can’t escape the idea that this is not the homeland they would have chosen. The rejection from their families still stings and probably always will. One of the saddest parts of the film was when Louie looked over the valley to his home village before departing for Europe. He dared not visit and he longed to return.
‘The Invisible Men’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This new novel has gone straight to my hinterland. In part, this is because the writer is Patrick Ness and his books are always worth reading but it is also because the story of a young gay man trying to come to terms with his family who would rather he was a person he was not.
The story takes place over the course of one day as Adam runs errands for his mother, meets his best friend (female) and boyfriend (male), helps his father set up the church for Sunday worship, completes a shift at his Saturday job and attends a get- together by the lake in the evening- an event scheduled to ‘say goodbye’ to a former boyfriend who still has a hold of his heart.
We follow Adam as his path crosses with his contemporaries who all love and respect him in a way his parents cannot. This is at the heart of the book, since being gay is not an issue for Adam. His minister father, his pastor- in- training brother and his mother remain hopeful that the undeniable truth will not have to be faced and, in one scene, the truth of the matter is voiced by his father who tells him how hard he has to work to love him.
There is a strand of fantasy that weaves through Adam’s story and its point is only made clear at the end of the book.
‘Release’ by Patrick Ness is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In London, so off to Tate Britain to see the exhibition ‘Queer British Art: 1867- 1967’, held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of legislation to partially decriminalise homosexuality. The gallery was heaving with visitors heading for the major David Hockney show; somewhat telling that a gay artist drew bigger crowds than this attempt to show how being gay influenced the art.
I had a few problems with this exhibition, the largest being that not all the artists featured were known to be gay. The suggestion that he or she might have been is just a posh version of what the awful tabloid newspapers do when they want to ‘suggest’ a person’s sexuality.
Having grown up in the 70s when being thought to be gay by others was enough to bring around the abuse, it was a bit disappointing to see the same (but more refined) approach being used on people who are long dead and cannot speak for themselves. Lord Leighton’s work is here which seems to be enough to decide he must have been gay. I take the point, made by the curator, that many paintings were coded to convey messages that would have been picked up by gay people but that does not mean that all the Victorian artists here were gay themselves.
The two paintings I loved rose above the rest, with only the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell from Reading Prison of equal poignancy. Lord Leighton’s ‘Icarus and Daedalus’ and Henry Scott Tuke’s ‘The Critics’ were stunning.
When the great John Hurt died earlier this year, there were many references to the highlights of his career but I don’t recall this 1997 film which I saw on its UK cinema release and enjoyed.
Hurt plays Giles De’Ath, a distinguished author not known for his forays into popular culture. However, he heads to the cinema one day to avoid the rain, having locked himself out of his house. The film on offer is an E M Forster adaptation, so he is prepared to watch. The film awakens something in him; nothing to do with E M Forster as the film is called ‘Hotpants College 2’. The star of the film is a young American actor, Ronnie Bostock, played in a knowing way by Jason Priestley.
De’Ath becomes infatuated with the young actor, buying teen magazines with pictures of him and buying himself a VCR to watch old films. He restricts his housekeeper’s access to his study so that his obsession is not disturbed but his friends notice and one suggests he takes a holiday. He heads to Long Island, New York to Ronnie’s home town.
The film shows us the transformation of the author from other worldly figure to a man obsessed with the beauty of the actor he first saw on-screen. When they meet, Ronnie is actually enchanted by the older man’s interest in his career. Ronnie’s girlfriend is suspicious of his motives, though, and as meetings and joint trips are engineered by the older man, she sees that he is actually a rival for her boyfriend’s attention.
As with ‘Death in Venice’ which this story cleverly references, the ending is bound to be tragic but, in this case, we do not get a clear idea of what becomes of De’Ath, although we can guess. Ronnie emerges intact from the encounter but still affected by it.
The film was written and directed by Richard Kwietniowski and was based on a novel by British writer, Gilbert Adair. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?