Almost Human (Gay Fiction)

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It is not just that I myself have a mother funny, that , but that I am a mother. I am an Irish Mammy. When I started out at the age of 20 or so, I thought that female fiction was going to be the most exciting thing ever.

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Things were opening up; there was so much to say that had not been said before. In fact, there was no huge welcome for the female voice in Ireland; the male tradition continued to dominate for the next 30 years of my writing life—and 30 years is a long time. I came to revel in my role as an outsider and also to dislike it. I decided it was more interesting to be on the edge of things. And it is. But this was a decision I was obliged, somehow, to make.

Things have shifted with the generation of Irish writers that has emerged since the economic crash, in the last five years or so. I think there is real change in the air now. And I was recently made the first Laureate for Irish Fiction so I can hardly claim to be excluded—outside, with my nose pressed up against the glass.

Perhaps it was time to move in from the periphery and pitch my tent on the middle ground for once. Just for a while. Dave Roman talks with a Gaithersburg Elementary School student about comics. I think Alan Hollinghurst is my favourite living writer.

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He takes a very long time to write a book — I think he has only written five — so each one takes about six years. This one is my favourite because the writing is so beautiful. He has two students, one of whom is ugly and another, called Luc, who is unbelievably beautiful. This is his Aids novel, I suppose.

It acknowledges the existence of this terrible disease but at the same time it has an incredible enshrinement of physical love and physical beauty in the affair between Edward and Luc.

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But the difference is that the boy in Death in Venice never puts out. He seems to be almost unaware of his effect on Aschenbach, whereas Luc actually has sex with Edward. So that is an unusual, strange moment in the book. Back in , John Updike made some comments about Hollinghurst, saying his novels were relentlessly gay in their personnel and they lacked female characters. He also objected to the detailed observations of gay sex. He was a very narrow-minded working-class man who, even though he rose to the heights of American fiction, nevertheless retained the values of his childhood, which were those of a working-class family.

You would think that Hollinghurst would have appealed to him. Nabokov hated homosexuality and was very edgy around it, partly because his own brother was homosexual and his uncle. And he believed that it was hereditary, so he was always nervous about it. Updike could only write about suburban adultery and childhood memories.

He had no subject matter even though he wrote 50 or so novels. One is more empty than the next. You could argue that Hollinghurst did respond to this type of criticism by having strong female characters in The Line of Beauty , which won him the Booker Prize. Maybe he was nudged by the criticism.

Alan Hollinghurst is a friend of mine and was actually very flattered that Updike wrote about him at all, even if negatively. In fact, he saw it mainly as a positive review. But this is a book he suppressed during his lifetime and thought it was unpublishable, which is sort of sad if you think about it. They have an affair, but then Clive gets married to a woman. Maurice comes to visit him and is rejected by Clive in his new guise as a married man.

Then Maurice finds consolation with Alec the gamekeeper. Had it been published at the time that he wrote it, it would have been extraordinary, it would have opened up all kind of doors. People often discuss Hollinghurst as a Forster-influenced writer.

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The book looks at the social implications of being gay. This was something Forster was very concerned about, opting not to publish the book until after his death and penning homosexual stories purely for his own amusement. He would give the manuscript to other homosexual friends to read.

It was designed to amuse them too. He himself had a working-class lover, Bob Buckingham. But Genet was often involved with married men. I think a lot of men of that generation were only attracted to straight men. That was a very period taste. Then you have to deal with them. Genet actually chose the wife of one of his male lovers and built a house for them with a room for himself. Even his last lover, who was a Moroccan, Mohammed al-Qatrani — he lived with him and his wife and child.

Before we talk about your final book, perhaps you could tell us something about the New York literary group, The Violet Quill, that you and Holleran were members of in the early s. It only ever met about seven or eight times. But it did represent a real moment in gay fiction because earlier gay fiction had been addressed mainly to straight people in the form of an apology, complete with explanations about how the characters got to be gay — because they had a suffocating mother or an absent father or something like that.

It was about the terrible pain they suffered and the books almost always ended in suicide. The Violet Quill really represented a break with that tradition, in that suddenly there were in place various institutions of gay literature like good literary magazines and almost 70 or 80 gay bookstores throughout the country.

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Dancer from the Dance was published in , which was sort of a banner year for gay fiction. The function of the group was partly to claim a certain turf for each writer. So I think that was part of the function of that group. Another function was simply to provide an audience and encouragement for us as we tackled these new areas of experience, which required a certain amount of courage to write about.

We all felt we had something to lose by coming out and writing about gay stuff. We had some sort of literary reputation that we were afraid of sacrificing by being identified as gay. You have to remember this is a book from before the Aids era so it was the golden age of promiscuity. He lives on Madison Avenue and is fascinated by Malone. At the end of the book he overdoses and Malone disappears and the Everard Baths, a large sauna of that period, burns down, killing many people.

That really happened, historically.

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Yes, in the same way that The Great Gatsby sums up its era. Yes, still beautifully. He wrote a book called Grief a few years back, which was a superb book. She became a shopaholic. She bought so many clothes her children had to have her institutionalised or else she would have dissipated their entire fortune. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books or even just what you say about them please email us at editor fivebooks.

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