For a work purporting to be an academic research tool it was poorly written and of little use. Each entry follows a format; a muddled precis; some publishing history; biographical speculation. The author's personal pecadilloes were apparent. The inclusion of Denton Welch as a 'lost' gay writer and the analysis of his work was stunningly ignorant.
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I'm surprised at the other review of this book as I have enjoyed it very much and will keep rereading bits of it. It seems to me that Anthony Slide has brought an admirable clarity to his survey of these fifty novels, and the descriptions are really interesting, even if, in some cases, reading the whole novel might be rather less so. He says up front that they are generally books of the second rank and have hence disappeared from view, with the odd exception. But there can be something hilarious about the convoluted, melodramatic plotting that characterises a book like Twilight Men by Andre Tellier, and reading one precis after another brings this out. The stereotyping and negative judgments abound in these books which mainly date from 1920 to 1950 - the fact of choosing gay subject matter was more likely to be a way of getting attention or creating "interest" in this way than a plea for greater tolerance or understanding. One example of this is Michael de forrest's The Gay Year which now seems utterly hilarious, although it wouldn't have done at the time - more like kicking someone when they're down. It's a measure of how social attitudes have changed, as is the whole book (Slide's). Not that everyone is negative - or that gay writers were by any means all positive about being gay. When you set this against the well chosen reviews - often from quite erudite sources - that Slide quotes from, and then further against his own comments, what you get is a fascinating, multi-layered book laid out in short chapters that take you through one novel each. Some of the writers are famous as screenwriters or in another genre - John Buchan, for instance, or the writer of The Lost Weekend or The Red Shoes. There are also a small number of books you want to go away and read for yourself, such as Denton Welch's Maiden Voyage, Georges Eekhoud's A Strange Love: A Novel of Abnormal Passion, or Nial Kent's The Divided Path. The prize for the most outrageous and bizarre book has to go to Stuart Engstrand's The Sling and the Arrow, a deliriously overheated story of matrimonial murder with a husband increasingly bursting out of the confines of his secret lingerie while imagining his wife as a boy and lusting after a Coast Guard after spying on him having sex, who also gets the same wife pregnant. The murderer is also very cowardly, apparently, on top of everything else!
This book fills in a vital gap in our overview of gay literature of the period, and in the way it reflects attitudes, is a measure of how far things have moved on. It's also a reminder of how deep-seated prejudice can be, and of how the battle against homophobia is still far from won even in places where lawmakers have gone all-out to try and put gay people on the same footing as everyone else. The situation is still far from utopian, even without looking at other countries where basic rights are still denied. Added to that, it is compellingly interesting, and covers the ground in a parallel manner to Vito Russo's much more widely known study of the same area in cinema, The Celluloid Closet.
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