There’s an interesting tradition of feminist utopian novels which speculate about futures or alternative societies that feature populations dominated by or entirely composed of women. These range from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Herland Trilogy” to Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s witty parody “Sultana’s Dream” to Marge Piercy’s science fiction classic “Woman on the Edge of Time” to Mary E. Bradley’s “Mizora” where women can reproduce through parthenogenesis (reproduction from an ovum without fertilization.) These imaginative works radically envision places where men are of secondary importance or become entirely irrelevant. These idealistic visions offer a breath of fresh air and a welcome counter-reality to the patriarchy which has dominated society for centuries.

Given enormous recent advances in science, it’s not hard to imagine the prospect of a technology which enables women to reproduce without men. That’s exactly the premise of Angela Chadwick’s enthralling debut novel “XX” which tells the story of lesbian couple Rosie and Jules who enrol in the trial stage of a ground-breaking new Ovum-to-Ovum treatment. It allows them to become pregnant through an IVF technique using two eggs rather than needing a sperm-donor. Since there is no XY sex-determination system at play in this method of reproduction it means the child will always be born with the sex chromosome XX and must be female. But Chadwick doesn’t posit this advancement as an opportunity for a world-dominating matriarchy; it’s exactly the opposite. The great drama of the novel comes from the wide-scale social resistance to such an advancement which will enable a small group of isolated individuals a unique opportunity to reproduce together. A conservative backlash perceives this technology as a threat to the status quo as they assert all children need a mother and father. They also fear boys will be phased out of the species. Rosie and Jules find themselves at the centre of a horrific and politically-contentious media storm. It’s a vivid story of personal struggle reflecting how any advancement with society is sadly met with reactionary politics.

It’s a difficult fact for many same-sex couples who wish to have children that some alternative method is currently required to assist them in becoming parents. This can be very painful and complicated because it means both people in the relationship don’t have an equal genetic stake in their child. I admire how Chadwick addresses this issue in her novel by offering a solution and exploring the challenges that would arise from this. In doing so, she addresses how pregnancy, relationships and family life are filled with infinite complexities so the road to becoming parents is never simple or easy. But, in the case of this couple it’s particularly complicated given how they become the focus of media scrutiny from becoming pregnant with the first O-O child. The story is told through the perspective of Jules whose partner Rosie becomes pregnant from the treatment. As a journalist at a local newspaper, she finds herself in a unique position of being a reporter who is herself the top news story.

Filmmakers Debra Chasnoff and Kim Klausner editing their 1985 documentary ‘Choosing Children’ about lesbians who become parents

Filmmakers Debra Chasnoff and Kim Klausner editing their 1985 documentary ‘Choosing Children’ about lesbians who become parents

Jules strives to keep her personal life and work separate, but this sadly becomes impossible. The novel serves as an interesting commentary on our sensational media system which exploits individuals for the sake of broader attention-grabbing contentious issues. A local Tory politician named Richard Prior emerges as a spokesman and campaigner for an organization called the Alliance for Natural Reproduction. He’s recognizable as a composite of right-wing figures who develop platforms to rile up the public with paranoias and fears about threats to the “natural” order of things. The story meaningfully reflects how such cases have become more and more common in recent years regarding a whole range of issues including marriage rights, health care, education and immigration. It also comments on how a large section of the population now consumes such news stories by “flick-throughs and social media posts” and form opinions about issues without engaging with their full complexity or considering the real facts. It’s striking how Chadwick realistically envisions how an optimistic advancement such as this would be blown up into a much larger political issue with a vicious backlash.

“XX” is one of the debut titles from an exciting new imprint called Dialogue Books. The imprint’s goal is to publish writers and reach audiences from areas and groups of people currently under-represented by the mainstream publishing industry. It aims to spark a dialogue across different communities about subjects we ought to be talking about. This novel certainly touches on a number of subjects that feel relevant today and takes a refreshing perspective. It does this through a well-plotted story and characters that I grew increasingly attached to. There’s nothing flashy about the prose, but this feels completely appropriate for a story about a normal couple that find themselves swept into an extraordinary situation. It also feels positive how we might no longer need stories of extravagant extremes that envision all female societies as a correction for the gender imbalances in our world. Instead, Chadwick offers a very rational and practical vision of how incremental steps can be taken to create more inclusive communities and dynamic families for everyone.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesAngela Chadwick

There are innumerable unsung and compelling figures from history who never quite achieved the fame or long-lasting influence you’d expect. One of my favourite books from the past few years is Megan Mayhew Bergman’s collection of short stories “Almost Famous Women” which fictionalizes the stories of several striking women who were figures of marginal significance in their times but not widely remembered. A couple of her tales deal with people around the notoriously vibrant art scene in Paris between the Wars. In Rupert Thomson’s wonderful new novel he reimagines the lives of two particularly fascinating women from this period. Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe were a life-long couple both born into prosperous intellectual families in France near the turn of the century. They were artists and progressive thinkers who questioned static gender roles in the way they presented themselves and by adopting the gender-ambiguous names Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. We follow their lives from childhood to mingling with significant Parisian artists to their dangerous anti-Nazi activism in occupied Jersey to the post-War years. It’s a sweeping and thrilling novel that gives an entirely new perspective of early 20th century Europe and a powerful account of a significant long-term same sex love affair.

It’s clever how Thomson chooses to narrate his novel through the perspective of Suzanne/Marcel becomes she’s in many ways the more stable and practical partner of this intriguing pair. Lucy/Claude is daringly defiant in her opinions and actions, but she’s also erratic and if the narrative were steered by her voice it would probably grow too unwieldy. Instead we follow their experiences through the dogged and perceptive point of view of Suzanne who is enthralled by Lucy’s radical ideas and cavalier attitude. At one point she recounts Lucy declaring “Masculine, feminine,’ she said. ‘I can do all that. But neuter – that’s where I feel comfortable. I’m not going to be typecast or put in a box. Not ever. I’m always going to have a choice.” It’s impressive how forward-thinking and brave this couple were to live in a way which so stridently defied the gender norms and conventions of the time. While this spurred their artistic visions in writing and the visual arts, their refusal to be categorized and the fact it was a male-dominated milieu probably contributed to the fact that this couple’s work isn’t as well remembered as that of some of their peers.

Something I love is the empowering self-determined way these women choose uncertainty over a safe and predictable life. In practical terms it would have been much easier for them to settle down into stable lifestyles, but they chose each other and they chose to question instead of being complicit. They declare their stance as such: “The path I had chosen was the one that I could not imagine.” Given the time period and sex they were born into it’s very easy for them to imagine straightforward conventional lifestyles, but they strike out into uncharted territory in their love affair as well as dealings with the founders of the Surrealist movement and in undermining the imposed authority of the Nazis. Although they are faithful in their love for each other, this refusal to adhere to convention also includes not settling down into a strictly monogamous relationship – something which naturally becomes a source of friction for the couple over the years.

Anyone enamoured with the glamorous intellectual circles which have been frequently mythologized in fiction and nonfiction accounts of the interwar periods of Paris will take pleasure in the many cameos of noteworthy eccentric figures. These include Gertrude Stein and her “melancholy lover, the one with the drooping eyelids”, Salvador Dali who is “a dapper, narrow-shouldered man with slicked-back hair and a moustache… up close, he smelled of old gardenias, their petals browning at the edges” and Andre Breton who “wore a green suit and a pair of spectacles, and he carried his famous cane on which were carved vaginas, erect penises and slugs.” There’s a strong sense of how these groups were self-consciously fashioning legacies at the time. Also, the warring egotism of different artists meant that “The movements came and went more quickly than the seasons, and the rifts between people we knew were perennial and vitriolic.”

Claude Cahun & an unknown woman

Claude Cahun & an unknown woman

However, this novel comes most grippingly alive when Suzanne and Lucy move to Jersey seeking stability and quiet, but find the war comes to their doorstep. Their actions are incredibly brave and it leads to some very tense scenes. There are also some funny observations about how easy it was, in some cases, to fool the Nazis by simply signing their anti-German fliers as if they were a soldier because “No one looking at the word ‘soldier’ would think of a woman.” However, the very narrow-minded misogyny which ironically allows them to get away with their subversive activities for so long also gets them into hot water when the Germans refuse to believe they were simply two older ladies acting alone. The fact that I had no prior knowledge about this couple and how their lives would play out added to making this novel such a tense read for me.

“Never Anyone But You” is also an especially compelling and heartfelt novel. It’s wonderful reading about a historical same sex relationship portrayed in such a compassionate way. There is an intensity and beauty to breaking taboos to be with the person you’re naturally drawn to, but there’s also a sense of isolation which comes from finding love which cannot be celebrated within the larger society: “Since we were excluded, we became exclusive.” This is a powerful sentiment that’s also echoed in Matthew Griffin’s novel "Hide" about a long-term gay relationship. I also admired how Rupert Thomson avoids sentimentality in how he presents the bond between these women: “It’s a mistake to think that a long relationship is boring. The longer you’re with someone, the more mysterious they become.” Following the harrowing story of this dynamic couple which is brought so vividly to life in Thomson’s novel made me appreciate how complex these women were and grateful that they’ve been rescued from obscurity.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesRupert Thomson
2 CommentsPost a comment

“White Houses” must be one of the most touchingly romantic stories I’ve read in a long time. This is also a novel with searing political insight that offers an alternative view of history. Amy Bloom writes from the perspective of Lorena Hickock who was a journalist and author of the early-mid 20th century. She also shared a strong relationship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The enormous affection between these two women is well documented but historians still disagree about whether their relationship was physical or not. In Bloom’s novel, Lorena and Eleanor’s enduring love for each other is unequivocal and she frequently takes the reader into their bedroom – not in a gratuitous way, but to show the transformative effect and power of the intense love they shared. At the same time she portrays the seat of government throughout crucial years of US history when FDR led the country through The Depression and the Second World War. This was also a time in LGBT history when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sought to persecute “subversive” behaviour and specifically kept a large file on Eleanor who was a famed liberal and civil rights activist. The result is a tale which is large in scope while also offering an achingly intimate portrait of a love affair cruelly shaken by extraordinary circumstances.

Lorena’s narrative weaves together fragments from her long relationship with Eleanor from blissful moments of their “honeymoon” when they escaped together to enjoy some solitude to the painful time when Lorena moved out of the White House to avoid embroiling Eleanor in a scandal. Lorena also recounts the story of her life from an impoverished childhood to the tricky position of being a female reporter in a male-dominated newsroom trying to hide her lesbianism: “I pretended that even though I hadn’t found the right man, I did want one. I pretended that I envied their wives and that took effort.” What’s particularly interesting about the way her past is related is that its in the context of a scene where Eleanor invites Lorena to tell the story of her life. While the reader receives the unedited version, Lorena leaves out parts that she knows will particularly distress Eleanor such as the sexual abuse she suffered from her father as an adolescent and her moment of sexual discovery with an individual named Gerry who is “brother and sister in one body” at a carnival she worked at for a brief period. This strikingly shows the complexity of how lovers exchange stories of their pasts which are carefully edited or modified, not necessarily in order to deceive their partner, but to drip feed what they know their lover can take.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock

Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock

Something I loved so much about this novel is the way Bloom realistically portrays the physicality of these women’s relationship. Lorena and Eleanor are aware that they aren’t “conventional beauties” but in bed “what may not look beautiful does feel beautiful.” It’s so moving the way she describes how features which would be scorned in public can become desirable qualities in the intimate space of romance. What’s more she describes how empowering this can be: “In bed, we were beauties. We were goddesses. We were the little girls we’d never been: loved, saucy, delighted, and delightful.” It’s a safe area where these individuals can reckon with their pasts and identity can become fluid to escape the confines of the roles they have to play in public. The only novel I can recall that comes close to exploring this kind of complexity is Garth Greenwell’s “What Belongs To You” – especially in the way that both books portray how LGBT people seek out spaces where desire can be honestly expressed as a way to enact all the multifaceted aspects of their personalities which aren’t socially acceptable to reveal in public.

What’s so especially engaging about this novel and makes it so compulsively readable is that Lorena’s voice is exremely witty and engaging. She’s a plain-talking journalist who often cuts through the social niceties of high society’s pomp. Lorena speaks frankly to many characters including Eleanor’s duplicitous daughter, a tortured gay cousin named Parker who comes close to ruining the family and Franklin D Roosevelt’s lover. She hilarious recounts her frank disdain for the “pink turkey parts” men have between their legs. There’s also a mesmerising intensity to her insomniac wanderings through the White House late at night where she sometimes encounters FDR to share a nightcap. She remarks of him that “He was the greatest president of my lifetime and he was a son of a bitch every day.” But, despite her hardened attitude which she acquired from such a challenging life, Lorena maintains a touching idealism and hope in her relationship with Eleanor that “Our love would create its own world and alter the real one, just a little.” It’s an important message and one which makes this historical novel all the more relevant today given that the US is more politically divided than ever and the echoed message of “America First” carries with it such stifling reactionary sentiments. “White Houses” gives us a portrait of the past which makes it clear how America has always been a nation where there are multiple meanings of the word home. 

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesAmy Bloom
2 CommentsPost a comment

It’s difficult enough for many gay people to come out, but for a boy to grow up gay in a working class family in rural France presents its own unique challenges. Eddy, the hero of debut author Édouard Louis’s semi-autobiographical novel, comes of age in the late 90s and early 2000s in a large family that treads close to the poverty line. Almost all the young men in their small town within the Picardy region work in the local factory once they are legally allowed to leave school at an early age. They are expected to conform to a certain type of masculinity: hard-drinking, aggressive and sexually voracious. For naturally effeminate Eddy this presents a problem at an early age when he’s branded a “faggot” – a label he can never shrug off no matter how hard he works to self consciously appear to be a tough guy. His perceptive story recounts the themes and individuals he contends with during his development towards becoming an adult who eventually accepts his nature and finds a place where he can achieve a sense of belonging. It’s filled with the brutal and intimate reality of his journey and makes statements which are at once deeply emotional and highly political.

It’s striking how for much of his early childhood Eddy is well-liked and admired for the things which make his personality unique: polite, intelligent and creative. Yet, at a certain point, these qualities don’t fit into the standard behavior associated with young men. He’s mocked by his family, friends and the other children at school – two of whom regularly and brutally bully him. Having no way to defend himself against these attacks he resolves (in a way he later realizes is akin to Jean Genet) “I thought it would be better if I seemed like a happy kid. So I became the staunchest ally of this silence, and, in a certain way, complicit in this violence.” This is the point at which his life becomes sharply divided; there is the private life and the public face he shows to the rest of the world. Rather than living freely and naturally he becomes self consciousness and begins to modify his behavior to try to conform to those around him. Of course, it doesn’t work. It leads only to humiliation, secrecy and painful self-loathing. All he wants is to fit in, but he’s uniformly rejected.

While things are often difficult for any queer teen navigating through a largely heterosexual society, there are unique hardships for those from a socio-economic background like Eddy’s. He and the people around him have been excluded from the narrative of society. The working class are often ignored and scorned. The author proposes that this causes many to become insular and disdain any “outsiders” or the values of mainstream intellectual society: “To philosophise meant talking like the class enemy, the haves, the rich folk.” It leads to intense levels of homophobia as well as racism and sexism. Eddy concludes that “the crime was not having done something, it was being something. And especially, looking like one of them.” The “them” are the people who don’t conform to the conventional masculine mode which is stringently reinforced in every aspect of this working class community. Because the novel is written in retrospect from the point when Eddy has become Édouard, he’s able to understand the context of his upbringing. However, the physical and emotional pain from his difficult and warped development remain sharp in his memory. The author thoughtfully unpacks the social milieu of Eddy’s life which leads him to feeling like he has no options to leave or find support elsewhere because this is the only home he knows.

There are certain kinds of trauma from which a person can never recover from. Eddy’s many justified grievances will no doubt remain with him throughout his life and the anger he feels is palpable in this narrative. Not only was his self worth viciously lowered by trying desperately to conform, but he suffered numerous painful injustices. These ranged from being mocked by his mother for having asthma while she stubbornly smoked around him to the broken window in his bedroom which was left unrepaired for the majority of his teenage years. Then there are the atrocious contradictions of the people around him. He engaged in willing sexual activities with his male cousin and friends, yet he is the one publicly shamed for participating where the others are not. Also, his father’s homophobia and racism which he continuously vocalizes are forgotten on a couple of occasions when presented with a real gay person at a party or a black man he befriends in another city. Nevertheless, at home his father continued to berate him for his effeminate nature. At times the story feels all the more painful for the way it relates these details as the narrator struggles to make intellectual sense of them while holding the full fury of his emotions at bay.

It feels important that we have more books like “The End of Eddy” which pay tribute to the perspective of those who have been excluded from mainstream society. Notably, novels by Lisa McInerny and Kerry Hudson also sympathetically address this perspective of the working class. It’s been speculated that it was primarily this section of society that voted for Brexit and have elected deeply conservative leaders. Most often it’s their vote which influences government policy to become more insular in focus. Certainly this seems to be the perspective which Zadie Smith proposed in her article ‘Fences’ published in The New York Review. It’s also vital that we continue to have more stories from younger queer generations such as Chinelo Okparanta’s “Under the Udala Trees” and Garrard Conley’s “Boy Erased” where homosexuals still feel intensely pressured to live as heterosexuals. Luckily Eddy was able to eventually go to university, accept his nature and articulate his experience, but there must be countless people like Eddy who have fatally never been able to leave or speak about their constrictive circumstances. However – and this is really important - you don’t need to read “The End of Eddy” because it’s worthy. Read it because it’s a devastatingly honest and moving story in itself.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesEdouard Louis

It’s especially emotional reading a book about someone’s real experiences when it feels like they could have so easily been my own. As a teenager in Maine during the mid-90s, I came to terms with my sexuality and defiantly came out to my family at an early age. Although it was incredibly difficult and damaging in some ways, I feel extremely lucky that some help was available to me. A counsellor at my school advised my parents that this was healthy and a local LGBT youth support group provided me with connections to other teenagers like me – this was something so important and dearly needed after feeling for so long like I was the only one. Without this institutional support I think things could have turned out very differently. I could have been pushed back in the closet or worse. So it feels like with a twist of fate I could have gone through what the author does in this heartrending and beautifully written memoir. It describes a period of young adulthood when Conley entered into “treatment” at an ex-gay therapy religious organization after he was outed as gay to his parents. He recounts this painful experience as well as the events leading up to them in a way which masterfully examines his development and the way in which it was severely interrupted by this dangerous ill-founded program.

At one point Conley and another man listen to 'Pagan Poetry' on a loop in a way which reminded me of my young adulthood.

One of the things I found most touching about the book is the poetic way Conley describes a period in his teenage life when he played video games with a hypnotic obsession. Like many teenagers, I did the same. This is an activity many young people devout countless hours to and it’s often remarked that this is a mindless exercise. But Conley gets in this memoir how it’s more like a period of gestation where an adolescent can slip in and out of the self while coming to terms with the reality of new desires. Certainly it can be a way of avoiding reality, but it’d be wrong to think that nothing is going on in the mind of a boy completing adventurous quests on his game console. It’s not so much a way of wasting time as allowing oneself to float free from the constrictions that you’ve only just realized you’re entangled in.

It feels like this is a memoir which has become increasingly relevant considering that Mike Pence will become the next vice-President of the United States. This is a Congressman who advocated for funding conversion therapy and opposed LGBT rights. This ridiculous form of pseudo-treatment has been decreasing in America recently, but it could very well grow again if the prevailing sentiments expressed by the government are anti-LGBT. Conley powerfully describes the perverse way people who enter ex-gay therapy are expected to surrender aspects which are vital to their personality: “We had to give over our memories, our desires, our ideas of freedom, to Jesus our master.” The book movingly works up to the reasons why its author entered this program and how it felt like there was no other option. It drives home how vulnerable young people are and how easily they can be manipulated when brought under misguided influences. This is a book with a lot of heart that has something important to say.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesGarrard Conley
3 CommentsPost a comment

I only realized in the past couple of years how dreadful many adults are about articulating what they really desire – also how dreadful I am at saying what I desire. Superficial desires might be easily expressed, but what someone really wishes to experience or become is often much harder to put out in the world because its buried under years of socialized behaviour. It's much easier to conform to expectations and slot into a category. In this short, powerful memoir “The Surrender”, Esposito describes his lifelong journey to giving into his desire to dress as a woman. At a certain point in his childhood he learned that his compulsion to dress girlish wasn't compatible with the masculine image imposed upon him so it remained secret and dormant for many years. Only through a surprising identification with Kiarostami's film Close-Up and gradually admitting to others his desire, does he begin to dress in a feminine way outside of the private sphere. This provokes Esposito to formulate a strikingly original meditation on the meaning of identity and desire in the modern world.

I was really struck by the profundity and beautiful simplicity Esposito has for articulating how burying what you desire is a grave dishonesty. He discovers “My needs were not compatible with the logics bred into my mind, and it was up to me to change them.” It takes a lot of patient reasoning and difficult confrontations with himself to truly understand why he fears his transvestitism being exposed. It also takes a lot of trust to confide in someone how he really feels, but how surprising and wonderful it can be to get a positive response to such a confession. He describes with heartrending emotion the feeling of being observed and why dressing openly as a woman was so difficult: “If personality is a performance, then there are certain parts of it that one only experiences in the presence of others. Shame, affection, desire, vulnerability; these are quantities whose experience in solitude is like the sound of a sonata heard by one faulty ear.” It takes many years for him to build up the certainty of character to allow his private self to be seen publicly.

One of the most touching things is the way Esposito describes the evolution of his identity in sync with the theory, literature and films he consumes. He meaningfully enters into a dialogue with those whose ideas feed into his experience helping him to better articulate his own desires. It made me aware of why reading feels like such a vital part of my life and how all the feelings produced from the things I read aren't just abstract concepts, but things that apply directly to my day to day life. I think this book makes a perfect companion to Maggie Nelson's “The Argonauts” which I only read recently. Both reflect strikingly on the dynamics of gender in a deeply personal and intelligent way.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesScott Esposito

When contemplating our ancestral and national history we naturally look for people we can personally connect to. It can be difficult to divine the inner lives and feelings of people from a hundred years ago before social media, blogs and selfies made all that was personal very public. Of course, there are other kinds of records in the forms of letters, news articles, a scattering of photos, early films and artwork. However, it’s more likely that century old documents only offer a glimpse into the complex personalities of people from long ago or that certain outsiders left no record at all. Some special entry point of feeling is needed to connect to history so that you may fully understand and inhabit it. You want a body that you could have been born into. In fiction you can either assume the personality of a historical figure by clinging onto a glimmer of their state of mind or wholly create someone you could imagine being.

Author Sjón has found an extraordinarily creative way of entering into a crucial period of Iceland’s history in his novel “Moonstone” by inventing a boy. The majority of the novel takes place in the later part of 1918. At this time the country gained its independence as a sovereign state while also experiencing devastating losses in its population because of the spread of the Spanish flu. The boy Máni Steinn sells his body to older men and lives with an old lady. He goes to the cinema as much as possible. Here he becomes entranced by a French silent serial film Les Vampires. An outsider's perspective and the surreal crimes of this thriller combine in the boy’s imagination. A woman he idolizes merges with the French actress Musidora. The fluttering of a red scarf mirrors the image of the volcano Katla’s eruption. Through this point of view we feel a fresh version of the country’s transformation. We see it through queer eyes. Within the historic changes of a nation are inserted the creative possibilities of lives and ideas which surviving documents haven’t recorded.

Part 2 of Louis Feuillade's 10-part crime serial involving a secret underground gang known as The Vampires, of which one member is Irma Vep, portrayed by Musidora.

There are haunting scenes where Máni walks through Reykjavik while the influenza is spreading sickness and panic. He remarks how this has caused personal stories of tragedy to turn inward and become hidden: “these days the real stories are being acted out behind closed doors.” This is in sharp contrast to the very public celebrations and ceremonies of Iceland gaining independence from Denmark. Amidst the pomp of a nation being born a welcome level of perversity is introduced where Máni makes eyes with a sexy Danish soldier and the pair slip away to a secluded spot to get off with each other. When they are discovered it’s a scandal the nation wants to suppress. This isn’t the image they want to have. It’s not the history they want to record. Máni finds that he can only continue to grow and develop elsewhere, but a crucial energy and flutter of his heart is left behind.

“Moonstone” is wholly inventive, wildly beautiful and infectiously invigorating. The novel I can most closely compare it to would be Neil Bartlett's "The Disappearance Boy" in how the story radically re-views a nation's historical moments through a queer boy's perspective. It’s filled with startling imagery and fascinating ideas. This is a short, impactful novel like a dream you have around sunrise. It’s a tightly compressed tale whose meaning extends out far beyond its few pages.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
5 CommentsPost a comment

Recently, I met with my fellow judges in Foyles’ beautiful flagship store in London where we had an in-depth discussion on the twelve books we’d chosen for the Green Carnation longlist. It was difficult to whittle this stack down to a shortlist because they are such a diverse and interesting group we all heartily recommend. But, after much debate, (helped along with some slices of cake) I’m proud to announce we’ve come up with a shortlist of six books!

Here we have a novel that reaches across time to shake hands with George Eliot, a fictional reimagining of the author's great-grandfather's exile, a personal & urgent non-fiction account of the drug war that's torn our society apart, a multi-voiced tale from Jamaica that includes complex & original gay characters, a lively & entertaining narrator who provides an essential counter-point to the birth of Marxism and a personal & poetic memoir about family.

Sophie & The Sibyl by Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (Hodder Books)
Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari (Bloomsbury)
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (One World)
Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
Stammered Songbook by Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)

Click here to read more about the Green Carnation Prize’s history
Click here to find and purchase all the nominated books from Foyles

Have you read any of these books? What are you interested in reading from this list? Are there other books you’d have liked to see listed? Any thoughts on the list as a whole?

I would love to know your thoughts. It’s going to be a challenge choosing a winner from this fantastic group.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
3 CommentsPost a comment

Last night at the Southbank Centre in London there were a series of readings for the Polari Literary Salon which primarily featured musical ladies and sensitive men. Alex Klineberg read hilarious passages from his short book “Dear Sebastian” about his friendship with the notorious ‘Kind of Soho’ Sebastian Horsley, a truly flamboyant and uncompromising artist/raconteur. Next Andrew McMillan gave an arresting reading from his debut poetry book “Physical.” He’s a particularly effective reader with the hushed intensity of his voice. So his opening poem ‘Choke’ instantly seized the audience’s attention with the emotional power of the words and his confidential tone. Performer Celine Hispiche closed the first half of the evening with a rousing series of impersonations/tributes/songs to lost personalities and performers of London. Her instant embodiment of each past soul was far more convincing than anything Derek Acorah could pull off. Another impersonation/performance was given by female duo ‘All the Nice Girls’ who invoked the theatrical and musical escapades of Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney in 1920s London. James Dawson finished the evening reading from his new young adult novel “All of the Above.” He spoke meaningfully about the complexity of teenage desire and confusion of sexuality. He also vigorously defended the need for sexual education in schools and scorned the snobbery surrounding novels about teenage experiences.

Writer and editor Alex Hopkins read the books shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. I was thrilled to hear Kirsty Logan’s fantastic book of short stories “The Rental Heart” made the list. I read it at the end of last year when it was shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize. What I appreciate so much about the Polari First Book Prize are the LGBT books it introduces me to which I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Bindel’s hilariously titled and rousing polemic about changes in the lesbian and gay movement sounds really powerful. I’m eager to read Al Brookes’ topical novel about assisted suicide after reading this article about it in the Guardian. I’m intrigued by the sound of La JohnJoseph’s experimental fiction. David Tait’s poems mix autobiography and love story. Below is the complete shortlist. I’ll be excited to hear who is announced as the winner next month.

Straight Expectations – Julie Bindel

The Rental Heart – Kirsty Logan

Self-portrait with The Happiness – David Tait

Everything Must Go – LaJohn Joseph

The Gift of Looking Closely – Al Brookes

The Informant – Susan Wilkins