Today is Edmund White's birthday and A Boy's Own Story has recently been reissued as an ebook by Open Media, so it seems fitting to celebrate this book today, one of the author's most famous novels. My thoughts below are something which I first posted in 2009 on the blog Chroma. For the original special Valentine's Day post, I gathered a group of authors such as Jackie Kay, David Plante, Sophie Mayer, Aaron Hamburger and JD Glass to comment on queer books they heart/ones that have influenced them the most. I still heart this novel and return to it occassionally to read passages which have particular resonance. Edmund has also produced a stunning body of work from the definitive biography of Jean Genet to historical novels such as Fanny: A Fiction (a personal favourite) and Hotel de Dream to great books of memoir such as My Lives and Inside a Pearl, which was published last year. Fans will be excited to hear that he finished a new novel just last week! But A Boy's Own Story will always remain an extremely special book.
I read this novel as a teenager and discovered in White's beautifully rich prose an articulation of feelings I myself was struggling to understand. Speaking to other gay men and reading about people’s relationship to this book I’ve found that many have experienced the same thing reading this brilliant novel. It’s startling that a story so specific and entwined in it’s particular time and location can touch upon such universal feelings, taking on personal meaning to so many. It also felt brave and honest that the great betrayal at the end of the book doesn’t conform to a facile love story, but hints at impulses inherent to queer identity which have the power to divide us as much as bring us together.