The Strangers Child – Alan Hollinghurst

the strangerschildOne person enthused greatly but many in our group didn’t finish this book. One wanted to finish in order to go on to a more interesting book. In the end, he didn’t care whether Cecil was gay or not nor whether he had an affair.

Some only started to be interested with the arrival of Paul from Wantage working in the bank and looking at early porn and the country house now in a small town. The earlier stuff about posh people in posh houses. It was, however, interesting to see how houses changed hands and uses

Mention of the Bloomsbury Group and of Leo Abse rekindled interest but then it got boring again.

The ups and downs of the characters and the way in which they diminished with age was well told and the book was more linear than his previous stuff and shows a more mature style.

One thought it read like a detective novel, better than A. S. Byatt. Another saw hints of Evelyn Waugh. Cecil Valance is said to resemble World War I poet Rupert Brooke (WW1 cast a shadow over whole novel.)

One could empathise with a character entering a room of complete strangers.

There was a lovely description of a bank and its routines but wasn’t there a lot of smoking in public spaces back then?

Writing was more florid pre-war but do we really want one sentence followed by half a page describing that sentence?

And how come a prep school had 5th and 6th formers?

Do we really know anyone?

And what is memory? Facts and feelings get confused so it is an unreliable method of recovering the truth.

Daphne thinks: “What she felt then; and what she felt now; and what she felt now about what she felt then; it wasn’t remotely easy to say” p. 141.

Daphne muses: “He was asking for memories, too young himself to know that memories were only memories of memories” p.382

Jennifer Keeping tells Rob that Paul Bryant’s story of his father’s heroic death in World War II is a fiction, that in fact Paul was a bastard. For Rob, this revelation makes Paul “if anything more intriguing and sympathetic” p. 422

Awareness/intuition: After Cecil leaves “Two Acres,” Daphne thinks: “Of course he had gone! There was a thinness in the air that told her, in the tone of the morning, the texture of the servants’ movements and fragments of talk” p. 75

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Good Fruits – Jim Cotter

Jim Cotter(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Jim Cotter, who died last week, was a prime mover in the founding of what was then called GCM. He first became famous when he wrote a regular piece called ‘Our God Too’ in Gay News back in the 1970s. Magazines like Women’s Own and Women’s realm had similar ‘God slots’. One article that I still remember was called ‘The cottage and the Confessional’, which is reproduced in this book, in which he compared the anonymity of both. Intimate sharing occurs in both but not in an holistic manner. The similarities: .It’s all very private; it needs to be. But it may also be anonymous — neither person may know the name of the other….Secret stories are told in both places — spoken in the case of ne, scribbled on walls in the case of the other. And there is a sort of communication going on, though it tends to be impersonal: Vulnerable secrets are told or vulnerable parts are put forward — in the hope that they will be accepted, received, affirmed. Above all there must be no rejection. Many come to both out of loneliness and guilt, believing themselves to be unacceptable. They find something, often only temporary relief, no more. It can all be very mechanical and partial — a list of misdeeds, the tip of yourself. A Roman Catholic writer, Sebastian Moore, referred to confession once as a ‘private appointment with guilt’. It could be a description of the other encounter too. Nothing is ever said about these meetings afterwards. If one should happen to recognize the other in the street, there is no acknowledgment. The secret is well kept. You certainly never refer to the detail of what happened or what was said and done. Lips are sealed.

Jim saw destructiveness in both behaviours but also pointed to something life-affirming in recent developments where the sacrament of reconciliation is now usually a face to face encounter. Similarly, cottaging isn’t as prevalent, perhaps because of the internet.

When this book was written, in 1988, the heavy hand of ecclesiastical law was used to evict the Gay Christian movement from its office in a London church. The assailant was an archdeacon who later became a bishop and is now retired and living in Bristol. He shows no signs of remorse and, 26 years later, the ‘gay issue’ hasn’t gone away. Doubtless, the offending bishop will have claimed the bible as his authority but his reputation, since that event, is that he is not prepared to listen to anyone who disagrees with him. Leaders like him must be challenged. The debate isn’t between two equal sides. The establishment isn’t wounded by its condemning gay people. However, those whom it condemns suffer its pontifications, some going as far as to commit suicide. The recent Pilling Report hasn’t heeded what Jim wrote all those years ago: When there is very little room, when there are no circumstances in which any kind of same-sex relationship ran be openly acknowledged and recognized, then it is hardly surprising that it should prove difficult to establish and sustain such a relationship. The remarkable fact in the circumstances is that so many couples do survive through the years.

There are still those who believe in a ‘cure’ for homosexuality. One chapter of this book is about an organisation called ‘Pilot’ and its telephone ‘counsellor’ Jeff. All Jeff does is shout bible verses down the phone. He isn’t willing to listen, so how can this be ‘counselling’

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The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon – Tom Spanbauer

The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Our group didn’t like this author but I did, so I have read some of his other stuff. However, this book is different and I wasn’t so keen. In fact I got bored with it quite early on.

The author claims a particular style for this book: “Dangerous writing means putting a piece of yourself in a work, going to the ‘sore spot,’ and discussing taboo topics, particularly sex and violence. It means writing for yourself, a concept that in the literary world was thought to make you go broke. It means exposing yourself to the tiger, not physically, but mentally.”

 The childhood of the chief character is well described, not least by his spelling out all the big words that he is learning. The trouble is that he continues to d this in adulthood.

He experiences American white prejudice, having to ride on the top of a stagecoach rather than inside. His sexuality is mysterious and alluring to white men.

But did he really drink a pint of whiskey in one sitting?

For all that people think of ‘Red Indians’ being primitive, there is sound wisdom in reflections about sex, that it can be mechanical but that it’s better between two people whose stories combine and whose hearts beat as one: “You make things how they are by the way you think of them,” Dellwood said.

“Tybos think it’s a sin,” Dellwood said, “—that fucking is a sin, whether men do it, or women do it, or men and women do it. Only time you can fuck is to have a child, and then it’s something you want to be over with fast.

“Most Indians love to fuck,” Dellwood said, “like they love to eat, and breathe, and take a good shit—ain’t no sin or hell damnation or fire—it’s just another part of the Great Mystery.”

The fuck part.

“In Indian,” Dellwood said, “in most tribes, if you were Berdache, folks figured that, since you weren’t like most men, and you weren’t like most women, that you were something different altogether, mean­ing somebody special, not bad. Berdache were looked up to as spiri­tual leaders and healers. Even though they usually lived alone, they weren’t outcasts. Berdache took care of children, made bread, gath­ered berries, went hunting, tanned hides; in short, did everything the men did, did everything the women did too, and sometimes even became a second wife to a man if the Berdache thought the man was worth it.

“Depended on what kind of person you were, what kind of Berd­ache you were—if you wanted to dress up as a woman and stay with the children, then that’s how you were and that’s what you did. If you lived alone, your tipi set off from the others, and were a powerful Berdache enough to call a different man to your bed each night, then that’s how you were and that’s what you did. Some Berdache were feared warriors because their medicine was so strong.

“One of the first things the Christian missionaries did to the Indian people,” Dellwood said, “once they got here, was kill the Berdache in the name of their god because the missionaries knew that if they got rid of the Berdache, they could get rid of a lot of what was Indian.

The moralising Mormons are maybe a reference to the time this book was written when, as the author says in an interview, “when fundamental Christians were trying to make homosexuals into second-class citizens. It was an initiative called Measure Nine.”

The amputation scene was gruesome.

Good quotations:

“You can’t stop people from talking. They talk and pretty soon you got a story, and what’s a human being without a story?”

“you got to consider the source…a story about a crazy man, told by crazy people should only make you wonder.”

On death and funerals: There was a big coffin and flowers and you could hear the organ and people singing the songs they do when tybos die. Music when you hear it makes you want to die too………. At our funeral, there weren’t any coffins—no money to buy coffins, no time to build them.

What gives birth to a life must sustain it.

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Hostel Room 131 – R. Raj Rao

Hostel room(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

The author is good at describing smells, heat and busy roads. The chapters are short and the book is engaging from the very beginning.

It is half autobiographical and has the author’s (or India’s) usual obsession with trains. ‘We are vrestless as a nation, always in need of movement.’

Sexuality is not binary. Maybe that’s because India doesn’t have a national health service so there are less gender realignment operations. Intersex people just exist. They don’t get assigned the gender wanted by parents.

A scene which most lovers will recognise is when one takes the other to his home town and shows him his former school and all the other places that featured in his growing up. A sharing of memories.

The plot to turn Iraqi soldiers gay by chemical warfare is based on a stupid idea from America which was once current.

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The Line of Beauty – film version

LoB filmWe read the book in December 2013 and our review is here.

What it is to be good-looking (many of the cast are; others are hideous) and charming, able to bed anyone you want, and to get away with not contracting HIV (though I can’t believe hs was still virgin after graduation – this was the 1980s not the 1950s). The character of Nick Guest is well played, his naivety but also his wordly-wise behaviour.

Some of the tories are even half-likeable, like the women who thinks that ‘oral sex’ means kissing. Others are utterly despicable.

The religious kitsch in Leo’s mother’s house has tpo be seen to be believed.

The film version seems to be faithful to the book, though one of our members thought that it ‘flattened it out.’ Nick is more likeable in the film than in the book. The film accentuates his care for Fedden’s bipolar daughter whereas the book portrays him as a calculating ‘user’.

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