Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellOne of my most cherished treasure is the Chariots of Fire soundtrack by Vangelis. I also planned to go and visit the beach in St Andrew, Scotland, where the famous free run with all the characters of the movie is set. It's not a gay-themed movie, but guys, all those young boys at the beginning of the century? So full of life and integrity? Mmm, they gave me idea. And probably they did also to Charlie Cochrane, since the same feelings I had watching that movie, I had reading her books about the Cambridge Fellows. So I'm really happy to have Charlie as guest today, and her list is like an extension of those cherished memories and feelings. Enjoy Charlie's Inside Reader List!
I’ll start with the ‘Caveat emptor’ bit. Before anyone claims I’ve broken the Trades Descriptions Act, I will state here and now that this list of ten ‘novels’ contains one play and a collection of short stories. I’m unrepentant about it.
1) Maurice by E.M. Forster. A work that’s beautifully lyrical, understated and full of wonderful characters; most of the things I’d like to say about Maurice have already been said by better folk than me. I’ll just add one note – this book was written by a gay man, yet it resembles (style, pacing, slowly building and hesitant romance) some of the gay romances which originate from a female pen. To me, it’s one of the great pieces of evidence to counter the ‘men don’t write like women do, they understand gay relationships differently’ argument. Some men clearly do/did think and write this way.
The extent to which Maurice is autobiographical (or at least based on EMF’s experiences) is a matter for debate – the author said that Maurice was very different from him - but I see EMF when I read it….
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Penguin Putnam~trade (June 25, 1992)
Completed in 1914, this novel is a condemnation of the repressive attitudes of British society and a plea for emotional and sexual honesty. Aware that its publication would cause a furore, Forster ensured that it did not appear until after his death in 1970.
2) The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingshurst. Shows how life has changed for gay men in the seventy years since Maurice was written. I came to this book having seen the TV adaptation and was mostly delighted. (The start and end are magnificent, even if I felt as I read the middle bit “Oh, not another sex/drugs scene”). Anyone who lived through yuppie excesses and Mrs Thatcher’s tenure of number ten will appreciate this book and the way it holds hypocrisy up to ridicule.
Reader beware, though. Nick Guest is just about the only likeable character in the book – he’s adorable but the rest…*shrugs*.
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Picador USA (April 2005)
Amazon: The Line of Beauty
It is the summer of 1983, and young Nick Guest, an innocent in the matters of politics and money, has moved into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: Gerald, an ambitious new Tory MP, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their children Toby and Catherine. Nick had idolized Toby at Oxford, but in his London life it will be the troubled Catherine who becomes his friend and his uneasy responsibility. At the boom years of the mid-80s unfold, Nick becomes caught up in the Feddens' world. In an era of endless possibility, Nick finds himself able to pursue his own private obsession, with beauty - a prize as compelling to him as power and riches are to his friends.
3) The Charioteer by Mary Renault. This is the sort of book which makes me consider saying, “That’s it, I’m not writing anything else because this puts us all in the shade”. Brilliant, beautiful, moving, a Happy Ever After that isn’t really a (or the) Happy Ever After that Laurie wants.
I’ve read this again and again and will keep on doing so. Miss Renault’s abilities stun me.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Vintage (May 13, 2003)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375714184
Amazon: The Charioteer
After enduring an injury at Dunkirk during World War II, Laurie Odell is sent to a rural veterans’ hospital in England to convalesce. There he befriends the young, bright Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. As they find solace and companionship together in the idyllic surroundings of the hospital, their friendship blooms into a discreet, chaste romance. Then one day, Ralph Lanyon, a mentor from Laurie’s schoolboy days, suddenly reappears in Laurie’s life, and draws him into a tight-knit social circle of world-weary gay men. Laurie is forced to choose between the sweet ideals of innocence and the distinct pleasures of experience. Originally published in the United States in 1959, The Charioteer is a bold, unapologetic portrayal of male homosexuality during World War II that stands with Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories as a monumental work in gay literature.
4) Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. Yes, not technically a book - although it gets read like a book by schoolchildren, something I’m not entirely happy with as these plays were made to be acted!
I’ve chosen this play because it intrigues me and is part of a larger picture which is equally perplexing. Both Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice (which were written at almost the same stage of the Bard’s life and around the time of the sonnets) contain an older man who professes his love for a younger one, who risks his very life for his amour and is left in the lurch when the young jackanapes goes off with a woman. Both men are called Antonio, the eponymous merchant and, in this case, the sea captain. Coincidence? Or did old Will have something or someone in mind?
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Signet Classics; Revised edition (April 1, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780451526762,00.html?Twelfth_Night_William_Shakespeare
Amazon: Twelfth Night
John Dover Wilson's New Shakespeare, published between 1921 and 1966, became the classic Cambridge edition of Shakespeare's plays and poems until the 1980s. The series, long since out-of-print, is now reissued. Each work contains a lengthy and lively introduction, main text, and substantial notes and glossary.
5) Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen. Part of one of my bookcases is given over to books written by friends of mine - alex_beecroft, lee_rowan, erastes and the like. I can’t possibly refer to every book so I’ve chosen one to stand for all.
I love the feel of this book. It reminds me of Busby Berkeley films, of the musical ‘Mac and Mabel’, of all the things I imagine about a city I’ve never been to in a time I never knew. And the leading men are simply adorable. If you see this book up for awards, chances are I was the one who nominated it and voted for it. I make no apologies for doing so – it’ll be a classic.
Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Lethe Press; New edition (January 3, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://lethepressbooks.com/gay.htm#allen-whistling-in-the-dark
Amazon: Whistling in the Dark
His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after an affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, he heads to New York with no plans and little money—only a desire to call his life his own. Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan. When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?
6) The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. I suspect this one, like The Charioteer, might feature in a number of lists.
I don’t know how Mary Renault does it, in this book or in her many others. She can sum up a character and situation in but a few exquisite words - and her sex scenes are wonderfully warm without anything explicit being said. Alexander and Bagoas’s first mutual seduction is as moving a scene as you could wish for in a romance, one I could (and have) read over and over again. And the subtle way she shows Bagoas’ foibles, even though it’s a first person narrative, is brilliant.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: PENGUIN BOOKS LTD; 5th THUS edition (January 1, 1974)
Amazon: The Persian Boy
The new monumental bestseller! a towering re-creation of the ancient world of Alexander the Great.
7) Regeneration by Pat Barker. The Regeneration Trilogy features a mixture of historical and original characters. Familiar figures such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the former certainly and the latter possibly gay, sit alongside wonderful creations such as Billy Prior, a complex, bisexual, abused, abusive, shell shocked soldier. Not a book that I can say I enjoyed in the same way as I enjoyed The Uncommon Reader – this trilogy is by turns challenging, harrowing and deeply thought provoking. Not an easy read but a worthwhile one.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (May 1, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141030937,00.html?strSrchSql=Pat+Barker/Regeneration_Pat_Barker
Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917, where army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating shell-shocked soldiers. Under his care are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as well as mute Billy Prior, who is only able to communicate by means of pencil and paper. Rivers’s job is to make the men in his charge healthy enough to fight. Yet the closer he gets to mending his patients’ minds the harder becomes every decision to send them back to the horrors of the front... Regeneration is the classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalised a generation of young men.
8) Saki – short stories. Saki wrote what’s possibly the best short story in the history of the universe. ‘The Unrest Cure’ is funny, anarchic, irreverent, and deeply politically incorrect. If Clovis Sangrail (a regular in Saki’s short stories) isn’t gay I’ll eat my hat. And I suspect Reginald (another one of his regularly featured characters) isn’t far behind I’ll eat Saki’s hat, too. Writing at the turn of the twentieth century, this author would have had to tread very carefully in his depictions of the wearers of the green carnation. I think he’s done it brilliantly.
Paperback: 960 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics (May 1, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141184494,00.html
Amazon: Saki – short stories
In these macabre, acid and very funny short stories, Saki drives a knife into the upper crust of English Edwardian life. Here we meet in particular two of his most brilliant creations, the self-possessed Clovis and the vain and supremely stylish Reginald. There is tea on the lawn, the smell of gunshot, the tinkle of the caviar fork and beneath it all the half-seen, half-felt menace lying beneath the polished surface of society.
9) The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. I am well aware that Her Majesty doesn’t fall under the remit of the LGBT theme, but Norman the kitchen boy – who tries his best in this book to introduce her majesty to the joys of various gay authors - does. This book is a little gem. Funny, sly, exuberant, irreverent in a highly respectful manner. If you haven’t read it I have to ask – why?
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 30, 2008)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/theuncommonreader
Amazon: The Uncommon Reader
From one of England's most celebrated writers, the author of the award-winningThe History Boys, a funny and superbly observed novella about the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading. When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.
10) A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie. It can be terribly easy to start playing ‘spot the gay character in old novles’, just as I’ve just done with those Saki stories, but I’m sure they’re there. I’m quite miffed at the recent ITV adaptations of Miss Marple novels which have changed certain heterosexual couples to homosexual ones just for the sake of it, because they’ve missed the point – there appear to be gay couples in these books already.
I’ve chosen A Murder is Announced to represent the genre as it seems to have at least one, possibly two, lesbian couples in it.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece ed edition (June 5, 2002)
Amazon: A Murder is Announced
Agatha Christie's most ingenious murder mystery, reissued with a striking new cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers. The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn, including Jane Marple, are agog with curiosity over an advertisement in the local gazette which reads: 'A murder is announced and will take place on Friday October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.' A childish practical joke? Or a hoax intended to scare poor Letitia Blacklock? Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, a crowd begins to gather at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when, without warning, the lights go out!
About Charlie Cochrane: “I write what's mainly a mix of history, romance and mystery - if men falling in love with other men offends you then you won't like my stories.”
Lessons in Seduction by Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (February 16, 2010)
Publisher Link: http://samhainpublishing.com/coming/lessons-in-seduction-2
Amazon: Lessons in Seduction: Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 6
This time, one touch could destroy everything…
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 6
The suspected murder of the king’s ex-mistress is Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart’s most prestigious case yet. And the most challenging, since clues are as hard to come by as the killer’s possible motive.
At the hotel where the body was found, Orlando goes undercover as a professional dancing partner while Jonty checks in as a guest. It helps the investigation, but it also means limiting their communication to glances across the dance floor. It’s sheer agony.
A series of anonymous letters warns the sleuths they’ll be sorry if they don’t drop the investigation. When another murder follows, Jonty is convinced their involvement might have caused the victim’s death. Yet they can’t stop, for this second killing brings to light a wealth of hidden secrets.
For Orlando, the letters pose a more personal threat. He worries that someone will blow his cover and discover their own deepest secret… The intimate relationship he enjoys with Jonty could not only get them thrown out of Cambridge, but arrested for indecency.