Thursday, 12 July 2012

Reviews: Books July 2012

I've recently reviewed a couple of gay books for a brilliant new website called which is a listings, reviews and lifestyle site. Well worth checking out.

They're not just books for the boys of a certain persuasion though. These are great reads, although straight boys might get a bit of an odd look from the girlfriend or wife if caught reading anything by James Lear.

Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White

Grand master of gay literature, Edmund White, is now in his 70s and his first novel was published in 1973. He’s renowned for his classic novel “A Boy’s Own Story” which accompanied me through an episode of glandular fever back in my teens and made the days bearable.

His current novel is about a man called Jack Holmes and his friendship with a gauche straight man called Will. The book is poetically written but very readable with some beautifully drawn scenes. Jack starts out blundering through life as he discovers he’s gay and tries to cope with being excessively well-endowed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could help someone come to terms with that particular problem? The book details his successes and failures and his experiences with sex and love.

The book is expansive, taking in a large section of time from the mid to late twentieth century and the changing nature of gay life in New York is well depicted. The absurd and clumsy friendship and unrequited lust that burgeons in the friendship between a gay and a straight man is both touchily and comically portrayed and is a running theme through this exceptional story.

If you haven’t got round to reading any Edmund White then I’d definitely recommend this latest work as a starting point.

James Lear

The nation’s women are gripped by “Fifty Shades of Grey” fever. Huddles of women are whispering about it in corners and passing dog eared copies back and forth. Book shops are selling out and the author is breaking records all round with her tale of BDSM sex and raunch. It set me thinking about how a few of my friends and I experienced a similar phenomena with the books of James Lear.

A few years back I picked up a battered copy of “The Palace of Varieties” by James Lear and was instantly in my own pornographic literary frenzy. The book describes the passage (yes, that one too) of a young man called Paul Lemoyne through the theatrical underworld of 30s London. The novel is actually well plotted and funny in parts as well as being incredibly erotic. Paul lurches from sexual encounters in toilets, to romps with dandy gentleman to a very steamy group session in a pub back room. The book abounds with enormous tghrobbing genitalia and lithe bodies. I passed the book on to a gay colleague and we ended up starting a reading chain as it was passed from sticky hand to sticky hand. We’d blush and titter at the more purple passages but all agreed it was a great book which had kept us all very entertained.

James Lear has written a few others including a detective series (think Agatha Christie with more group anal). I’d recommend them all for a light and smutty read but would just add the warning that they must not be read on a crowded train unless you have a particularly baggy pair of trousers on.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

Vintage is big business in the 21st century and one decade which brings on warm rushes of nostalgia is the 1950s. Homes are being decorated with stylish repro 50s patterns and tweed jackets are making a comeback, but have you ever considered what it was like to be gay before the law reforms of 1967 made homosexuality legal? This pitch perfect novel captures the atmosphere of repression and fear which surrounded being gay in 1950s Brighton. Bethan Roberts has created a compelling story with strong credible characters which is hard not to become instantly immersed in. The book details the tragic love triangle between a handsome young policeman, a naive school mistress and a more sophisticated gay museum curator. The story is by turns amusing and thrilling but also tragic and moving. The backdrop of historical detail doesn’t intrude on a great story but adds depth and colour to it. I would heartily recommend this book as being well written and eminently readable. It’s a book which causes you to stop and think about how we view the past through a filter of our own current experiences.

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