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In which I read genre fiction - Tactical Ninja

Oct. 19th, 2015

10:04 am - In which I read genre fiction

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I've just finished reading my third book this year that deals with the topic of homosexual male relationships.

This started when I read As Meat Loves Salt (well worth reading, just saying), and noted that almost all of the homosexual male relationship fiction I've read has been written by women. I asked for recommendations in the genre written by men, and picked a couple.

First was Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Witi Ihimaera, a New Zealand novel by an author whose works (not the gay ones) are often given as set books in NZ schools. It's about a professor of film studies who comes out as gay at the height of his academic career, while married with two young daughters, and during the depths of the panic about AIDS. It's a good read, emotionally wrenching and gritty, full of flawed characters and scarily familiar cultural markers. It weirds me out that his wife calls him Sport, especially when in true Witi style, one of his wordplays is that the people he actually loves get called by their real names while everyone else has a nickname. Recommended.

Next I read Giovanni's Room, a classic of the genre apparently. It's set in 1950s Paris, and is essentially a tragedy. It's been described as 'gorgeous' and 'vivid' - and indeed the writing is beautiful. Unfortunately I disliked the protagonist - he seems incapable of feeling anything, and in a novel with basically no action, what's happening in the protagonist's head is what carries the story. And I found Giovanni too pathetic to like, so the passion between them didn't feel supported by the kind of strength in either character that such passion really requires. However, I stayed interested till the end, and I think I'd recommend it - just not in the same year as As Meat Loves Salt, which in my opinion is superior despite having an even more unlikeable protagonist.

Interestingly, both male gay relationship fiction authors I have read this year are also PoC. Ihimaera is Māori and Baldwin is African American. Ihimaera's David is pakeha and has some interesting views on Māori activism (this author's always been a bit tongue in cheek like that), and Baldwin's David (yep, they both have the same name) is not characterised by race at all.

Anyway, of the three I would rank As Meat Loves Salt #1, Nights in the Gardens of Spain #2, and Giovanni's Room #3. YMMV, I don't know how much international appeal Ihimaera would have, but I think he's a better writer than Baldwin.

Now I think I'll leave the genre alone for a while. The book I'm reading at the moment is The Stonor Eagles, a reread for me but not since I was 15. It's already reminding me why I loved it so much as a teenager..


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Date:October 18th, 2015 09:48 pm (UTC)
Baldwin's non-fiction is incredible, and mostly what he is remembered for. I'd totally recommend The Price of the Ticket: Collected Essays 1948-1985 as a thing worthy of exploration.
(Huh, I blogged about that ten years ago yesterday: http://undulatingungulate.com/2005/10/18/on-james-baldwin/)
Haven't read any of his fiction, but at a guess, what was considered exceptional and groundbreaking in that era on those issues would be very tame and restrained by modern standards, but going first makes you a classic.
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Date:October 18th, 2015 09:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it did occur to me that the novel was probably considered quite edgy at the time. The writing itself was well done, and I did wonder if my frustration at David's lack of depth and Giovanni's pathetic neediness was deliberate manipulation by the author. In my case, it backfired and tipped the novel from 'very good' to just 'good'.

I also noticed some similarities in the way Baldwin and Ihimaera portrayed the gay scene and its supporting characters, despite 40 years between the writing of the novels.
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