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Old 11th May 2006, 15:51   #1
John Self
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Default Top 10 Gay Novels

The Guardian today reports that Britain's top ten gay or lesbian novels are as follows, as judged by a Big Gay Read poll.


1 Tales of the City Armistead Maupin
2 Tipping the Velvet Sarah Waters
3 Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson
4 Trumpet Jackie Kay
=5 Fingersmith Sarah Waters
=5 Calendar Girl Stella Duffy
=5 The Long Firm Jake Arnott
6 At Swim, Two Boys Jamie O'Neill
7 Brokeback Mountain Annie Proulx
8 The Line of Beauty Alan Hollinghurst
9 Carol Patricia Highsmith
=10 Rubyfruit Jungle Rita Mae Brown
=10 Desert of the Heart Jane Rule
=10 Rough Music Patrick Gale =10 Crocodile Soup Julia Darling

The fact that so many are in tied places suggests that perhaps not very many votes were cast in the poll, so how representative is it? Plus, as Big Gay Read was a feature of the queerupnorth festival, presumably it canvassed only gay and lesbian readers. Having said this, many of the top ten would probably have been in the same places if the poll had been expanded to include all readers of all sexual orientations. (I suspect Maupin's series and Jackie Kay wouldn't have featured as highly.)

The results bring interesting thoughts on the whole notion of categorisation. Is The Line of Beauty really a 'gay novel'? Why not an '80s novel'? And The Long Firm? Gangster or Gay? (To be honest I had no idea it had any gay content or interest.) As a big fan of Jeanette Winterson, I would challenge any attempt to pigeonhole her like this, and although the subject matter of Oranges are not the only fruit is - in part - lesbian love, it isn't what's most memorable about the book (that would be the humour and the concise, neatly poetic prose. For me anyway).

So of the 15 books in the top ten, I've read four - Oranges, Fingersmith, Line of Beauty, and Brokeback Mountain (a novel? 30 pages?) - which probably makes me moderately metrosexual. I did try At Swim-Two-Boys but found it impossible to read (not because of the gayness - there hadn't been any by page 50 - but because of the impenetrable, post-Joycean prose) and gave up; I do however have Patricia Highsmith's Carol and will get around to it soon. I haven't heard of Calendar Girl or the last four.

Is it useful to have minority polls like this? Perhaps so, since most of the top ten are pretty mainstream and they remind us (well, those of us who don't read the Guardian ) that homosexuality is not something off-centre or marginal. Not, of course, that gayness has ever really struggled to show its face in the creative arts, in the way it has in - say - professional football.

Any suggestions for missing titles? The Picture of Dorian Gray? Patrick McGrath's The Grotesque? Radclyffe Hall's The L-Shaped Room? (Has anyone actually read that?)
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:03   #2
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

I would have thought some of the other Hollinghursts maybe.
Personally I thought Tales of the City tedious in the extreme but I enjoyed At Swim Two Boys, the Winterson and the Proulx.

I'm not sure about the worth of the poll either - I heard about the results a couple of days ago although I had seen the poll a few months ago via somone's blog. Is it novels that deal with 'the gay experience' or with a gay protagonist, or a big gay subtext (in which case some people would put forward the Harry Potter novels).

Some of the best novels with gay characters I have read have been those for teenagers - Ted van Lieshout's Brothers, and Aidan Chambers Dance on My Grave and Postcards from No-Man's Land.
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:16   #3
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

While I've not read it, you can chip in E. M Forster's Maurice.
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:19   #4
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

Quote:
Originally Posted by Col
I would have thought some of the other Hollinghursts maybe.
Yes, particularly The Swimming-Pool Library which is the book of his that is most about being gay (or one slightly stereotyped version of it). The Folding Star was more a tragedy on loneliness and desire, and The Spell was a feeble farce.

And speaking of Harry Potter, wasn't there much oohing and aahing about the two 'gay' angels in Pullman's Amber Spyglass? Though they weren't actually very gay at all really, were they?

Speaking of the whole pigeonhole thing, I read also in the Guardian (where else!) last weekend about the demise of Gay Men's Press. As I'd never heard of it until that point, the news wasn't a blow to me, but is it something that was really needed anyway? Surely if a book with a gay theme or subtext is any good it will be published by a mainstream - or niche literary - publisher? Or at least, it's as likely to be published by them as a book with a non-gay theme?

Reading that article I've just linked to reminds me that Colm Tóib*n should surely be in anyone's Top Ten Gay Novels, for The Story of the Night, The Blackwater Lightship (both AIDS-tinged) or indeed The Master, which painted Henry James in a pinkish light.
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:25   #5
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

The gay classics like Querelle of Brest and Giovanni's Room are absent... which will give people who like to harumph something to harumph about.
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:26   #6
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

Wasn't Captain Tullock-Cha of that Brafindorian spaceship supposed to be an attempt at a gay subplot in The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor. If I remember correctly, Sean said he had a boyfriend.

EDIT: Ah, it wasn't the captain, as Sean tells us from his post on SFF World

Quote:
"The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor by Sean Wright, recently reviewed at SFF World (see review here), has two major gay characters. Frilek van Diehoff is a disgraced drug-addicted prince, and central to the plot of Jaarfindor. His page, Hullek, are lovers and he is also Frilek's voice of reason when times get tough, who form a major undercurrent in the book, but which amazing (or prhaps not!) have never been mentioned in the many reviews Jaarfindor has already garnered. This is especially amazing because Frilek is force by a mob of crooked drug-pushing insectiant, led by the very disturbed, Mathers, to push his lover to his death over the edge of a cliff - a harrowing and memorable, highly emotional scene."
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:46   #7
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

Brilliant Blixa, well remembered! Is there no bandwagon he won't jump aboard?

"The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor ... has two major gay characters." I didn't realise it had any major characters!
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:48   #8
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

Just how bad was his grammar in that extract?
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Old 11th May 2006, 16:50   #9
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Self
"The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor ... has two major gay characters." I didn't realise it had any major characters!
Hahahahahahahaha.
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Old 11th May 2006, 17:00   #10
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Default Re: Top 10 Gay Novels

Tipping the Velvet is a very lesbian novel, no dobut about it, but that doesn't make it a good novel, which was the second determinant of this poll.

John, The Picutre of Dorian Gray is a good choice, just because it isn't an obvious one. I bet most people who took part in this survey wouldn't be able to realise why it's a gay novel.
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