As February has come upon us, it is time to honour the lives and achievements of the rainbow community as we celebrate LGBT history month. The rich tapestry of queer history is one that is often side-lined and overshadowed, yet luckily there is a wealth of literature that beautifully and sincerely chronicles the LGBT experience of both past and present.
Guapa – Saleem Haddad
An impressive debut from the recipient of 2017’s Polari First Book Prize, Saleem Haddad crafts a heart-wrenching love story that lies amidst the dust of a fractured and crumbling nation. Set over the period of a single day, Guapa follows Rasa, a young gay man caught between two worlds: the free-spirited hedonism of the city’s clandestine gay scene and the ruthless tyranny of a tempestuous post-Arab Spring dictatorship. While perfectly encapsulating the stifling isolation of closeted life, Haddad masterfully depicts the harrowing pain of a destructive relationship that mirrors its own surroundings.
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Gypsy tribes, a London ice age and numerous chance encounters with some of history’s most famous characters all combine in this fictional biography to create the most magical, gender-bending, time-travelling adventure literature has ever seen. Orlando spans several centuries as the titular protagonist hurtles through time as days, months and years becomes as fluid as gender in the novel with the main character undergoing a mystical sex-change at the story’s midpoint. Although this riotously entertaining caper is arguably Woolf’s most accessible work, its pioneering examination of women’s changing role in society, unorthodox sexuality and being transgender certainly mark the book as well ahead of its time.
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
Following a day in the life of George, a professor who is left despondent after the sudden tragic death of his love Jim, A Single Man is a study of the struggles of coming to terms with bereavement and loneliness. Isherwood offers us a perceptively nuanced portrayal of grief balanced with a protagonist with a gift for hilariously sardonic social observation, resulting in a novel that is in equal parts charming and sorrowful.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
This coming-of-age story about a young girl adopted into a working-class northern community by evangelists is without doubt a must-read in the canon of queer literature. A semi-autobiographical work based on her own childhood, Winterson’s novel interweaves the pains of a teenage identity crisis with the comically farcical fanaticism of an intense religious community as her protagonist uses her fervent enthusiasm for her faith to make sense of love’s overwhelming strength. Such a bittersweet story tied together with an irresistibly charming wit is sure to enthrall all who read it.
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Painstakingly written over a 10 year period, Miller’s compelling reworking of Homer’s Iliad is more than just well-written high-brow fan fiction; it is a stunning love story that throws the reader into bouts of jubilations, pathos and hot-blooded passion. The Song of Achilles re-examines the relationship between Greek warrior Achilles and his fellow soldier and confidant Patroclus as a tragic romance that is tested against the worrying promise of an incoming war and choice between the human heart or immortal glory. Expect all the heightened drama, mythical mania and brutal bloodshed of a typical Classical Epic shrouded in the most compelling and absorbing love affair that history forgot.