Timoleon Vieta Come Home – Dan Rhodes

•January 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I wasn’t sure that a book about a dog ‘with the saddest eyes’ would work for me as I don’t tend to like adult books about animals, though I am an animal fan. However as that dog is the Timoleon Vieta of the title I knew I would be on a journey with him so I would have to leave my preconceived ideas somewhere else. I am glad I did as within about ten pages I was smitten with Timoleon Vieta (apart from the name which when you have to read it that often gets a little much) and quite wanted him as a pet of my own. Onto the story though.

Timoleon Vieta is the best friend, quite literally, of the composer Cockroft after he appears at the window of his Italian Villa one day. Cockroft a lover of animals, though with a bad history in owning dogs, cannot resist his eyes and so keeps him and spoils him rotten and the two become the perfect companions. That is until ‘The Bosnian’ arrives. Cockroft has a habit of giving out his card (along with a rather sexual quip) to good looking young men in the hope of long lasting affairs; he doesn’t expect them to follow it up, especially when they are straight. However as The Bosnian wants a free life where he can be happily bored for days on end he is willing to go to any lengths to get it, he just has to get that damned dog that hates him out of the way and one night after getting Cockroft drunk the dog is taken to Rome and bumped.

This is when the second half of the book kicks in and though we still read of Cockroft and his wicked Bosnian houseboy we end up following Timoleon Vieta as he makes his way home and surviving. We also are brought into the lives of those he meets and their fascinating stories in the Italian villages and towns. From a tale of star crossed lovers, a spurned Welsh girl after a holiday romance gone bad, to a man left with his dead wife’s child from another relationship these are all short tales of love, loss and betrayal and all of them are stunning.

What I liked was how Rhodes got into the head of a gay man, and did it very well. In some ways Cockroft is a little stereotypical but in the main he is just an elderly man who is a little bit naïve and is looking for love and so ends up with rather rose tinted spectacles one. I think it’s great when straight authors write gay characters and even gay sex; gay authors do it the opposite way round fairly often. Interestingly looking at reviews on a certain site a lot of people found the sex scene put them off the book which to me seems a sad state of affairs. Hey ho though what can you do?

I really enjoyed this book. There is a shock ending that I should mention as it has been slated on certain sites for it. I found the ending shocking but then sometimes we need to be shocked and sometimes books shouldn’t end the way we the reader want them too. I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to give anything away, if you have read it and want to discuss it drop me an email as wouldn’t want to give any spoilers out on here.

TV Book Show Didn’t Leave Me Happy & Gay

•January 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I wondered if I should pop this post on this blog, but I have done on both my others and I couldn’t really let the last 25 minutes of TV I have endured slip by with out comment. Despite the fact that it’s been one of the most hyped shows in a while I missed ‘The TV Book Show’ last night (because I am a Dancing on Ice addict) but have just watched it first thing this morning with my cup of coffee and toast and have come away in a rather bad mood. You may wonder what this has to do with Great Gay Reads by the book choice this week was Sarah Waters and also one of the presenters is Gok Wan. Tenacious links but hey ho I need to see who else was enraged?

For those of you who have no clue what I have started rambling about we have had a big book club on the television for a few years now called The Richard and Judy Book Club. It’s been a huge hit here in the UK and has seen all the books become best sellers and has made a lot more people get into reading. It was only a ten minute segment on their channel 4 chat show but it was a blissful bookish ten minutes perfectly pitched with the author talking, two celebrities debating the book with R&J and then a book groups opinions on the book. Delightful!

Richard and Judy left Channel 4 taking their book group and a whole heap of money with them and so now Channel 4 have produced a similar show only now we get 25 minutes and five presenters which to me sounded like a dream, until I just watched it.

I am going to forgive the fact that all the presenters seemed a bit too smiley, nodding and talked over one another trying to be the star or the funniest because it was the first show, mind you surely they had rehearsal time. I don’t think we needed a discussion about how David Spikey says ‘book’ for a minute or another minute long chat about how posh Chris Evans thinks Jo Brand has gotten whilst Laila Rouass and Gok Wan pout obliviously the latter livening up for the occasional flirting moment aimed at Nathaniel Parker. Cringe worthy but still forgivable for a first show.

What I cant forgive is the fact that Chris Evans (we all know autobiography sales have dropped so clearly the marketing people on the book show haven’t their fingers on the bookish pulse) got a whacking great ten minutes to talk about himself his book, followed by a segment on unused words The One Show did last week and the actual book choice got a minute of Sarah Waters talking (which was ace) before the book got a quick three minute chat which was summed up by the line ‘it’s worth a read really’.

What really made me frustrated was that for the money the public will have spent on the book (unless its from a library) it is just not right that they are repaid with such a limp small discussion, well chat. What bothers me more is that a book like Sarah Waters ‘The Little Stranger’ takes a long time to read and when you are aiming a book group at parents and people who don’t read as much because they are busy with children, work etc as well as discerned readers its just a disgrace when people invest so much time in a book to be treated to that. (I might even send a strongly worded email its riled me so, for the people in control are sure not to read book blogs if the show was anything to go by.) I might wait a week and see how things go in the next programme. I am really quite annoyed about it though can you tell?

I mean, if I was making the book show I would get rid of the ‘hilarious aren’t we’ or ‘pouting’ panel and get in some book addicts who would happily be paid less (hint, hint, me) and who would enthuse about all things bookish (and not need to have written questions and notes in their copy – yes Mr Spikey I mean you) rather than spend four minutes discussing a book they had to read, and didn’t seem to like without giving any good reasons as to why, to earn the channel and themselves some cash. I would also bring back the Book Groups and their wonderful thoughts on the books. There am done… I feel better now.

My Side of the Story – Will Davis

•January 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I hadn’t heard of Will Davis until ‘My Side of the Story’ caught my eye in a shop some time ago and I kept thinking I must get round to getting that. Then when I got it I kept thinking that I really should get round to reading it and now I finally have. I didn’t know what to expect of this debut novel, the fact that it won the Betty Task Prize in 2007 seemed like a good sign though.

My Side of the Story is the story of Jaz a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. Well he has come to terms with his sexuality it seems to be the world and his wife that haven’t. Apart from his best friend (or dare I say fag-hag) Al who will happily go to gay bars with him and is up for any adventure or drama that befalls them. This is quite a good thing as many a drama does indeed befall them and the hapless pair get into some unusual situations including running away.

I don’t want to give too much away with this book as it would spoil some of the outrageously over the top moments which also make you laugh out loud and this is some of the books greatest charm. As well as laugh out loud moments such as teachers in leather chaps (see you must have grinned at that thought) this is also the tale of Jaz falling in love for the first time and how he deals with all the new emotions it creates in him.

This isn’t the most literary book about coming out, coming of age or being a teenager but despite some of the very ‘out there’ drama it isn’t far off what its like to be a young man growing up gay and all it entails. Well it’s been almost a decade since I was in that situation but I remember it being every hormonal and fuelled with drama and the like, don’t you? It’s witty, highly readable and thoroughly entertaining. Has anyone read the latest Will Davis book, I am tempted to try it but slightly dubious by the premise. Do let me know if you have, or what you thought of this funny and entertaining read.

When Clarri Met Sally

•January 15, 2010 • 1 Comment

I have always wanted to read the legendary Virginia Woolf  but at the same time have always been rather intimidated by her. However due to a challenge I put myself up for last year it ended up that myself and ‘Mrs Dalloway’ would have a brief dalliance.  Sadly as much as I hoped to love the book, especially as I have always wanted to read it after seeing the stunning film of The Hours, I didn’t really enjoy it (please visit my other bookish blog for thoughts on that today). The writing is wonderful, I just didn’t like any of the characters. Clarissa needed a ‘good wake up shake’ and only Septimus was interesting but… well… I won’t give anything away!

So why on earth am I writing about it here? Well because as I mentioned the writing is utterly stunning and because of Virginia’s wonderful writing of  a love that dare not speak it’s name. When told Virginia Woolf beautifully describes the emotions that Clarissa Dalloway feels for Sally Seton and its just wonderfully, wonderfully written and pitch perfect. For that alone I have to recommend it here on The Great Gay Reads, how could I not?

A small post today, but don’t forget to scroll down and let me know your recommendations on some reads below!

January Recommendations Please…

•January 13, 2010 • 3 Comments

Before I rudely got distracted by Colin Firth in the previous post I promised you that I would give you a list of all the great gay themed books or great books written by gay authors that I have sat on my shelves (and in some of the boxes) that I haven’t read yet. I would then ask you to say which ones I simply must read first… so that is what I shall do! It’s not all the books I have to get through, I just thought this list would do for now.

  • Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett
  • Parallel Lies – Stella Duffy
  • Footnotes to Sex – Mia Farlane
  • The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  • Carol – Patricia Highsmith
  • The Indian Clerk – David Leavitt
  • Hell’s Belles – Paul Magrs
  • Michael Tolliver Lives – Armistead Maupin
  • Queens – Pickles
  • The First Person & Other Stories – Ali Smith
  • Mothers & Sons – Colm Toibin
  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  • Hotel du Dream – Edmund White

So what are your thoughts which book should I have a crack at next? One or two of them are already my favourites to be read next I wonder if you can guess which? Now I will leave this topic open to you until Monday! Let me know your thoughts.

Who Else Is Desperate To See This?

•January 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I am and no mistake! Tom Ford directing a film based on Christopher Isherwood’s ‘A Single Man’… with Colin Firth in it. It’s almost too much. I must read the book first though like all good blookish people should do!

Belated Happy 2010

•January 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Sorry that I haven’t done any posts for a while. I didn’t even leave you one with Happy Christmas on it shame on me, so now before I go any further let me wish you a very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2010. I think that might call for some fireworks or something…

OK, so I went with balloons… There you go. more classy. With the craze that is Christmas and the very possibly slightly (I won’t lie to you) drunken festivities of New Year I have been a little bit crazy busy and so I do apologise. I would say there is a post coming up soon but at the moment I am reading a giant doorstep of a Murakami for my book group and after that I am not quite sure where I should go next. I think I shall put a post up later this week of possible books I could read next and you can maybe whittle them down and recommend which ones I should or shouldn’t read? Sound a plan?

In the meantime New Year means resolutions and here are my bookish ones for 2010…

  • 2010 is all about reading on a whim. Challenges, long lists and read-a-thons (unless they fit in with a whim) are out and other than the one book group choice each month.
  • Get to know the books I own and not buy any more until that’s done.
  • Read more books in translation.
  • Discover lots of new authors, I already own.
  • Try more short story collections and novellas.
  • Read more non-fiction, end of (which the above will help with)
  • Carry on with the classics and read more of the books I have been meaning to for years, like ‘Maurice’.
  • Be tougher, if I don’t like it stop reading it.
  • Devour some books from and about Brazil. As I might be moving there in 2011 it would be good to know a lot more about it.

What about you? What are your bookish resolutions?

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

•December 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful and throughout the whole book I was totally and utterly engaged. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages.

‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilie, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilie is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilie soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilie settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilie… I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilie ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that’s not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilie works in one of these ‘Bartocci’s’ we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it; I ended up wanting to be there in Eilie’s house share in 1950’s Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women’s roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci’s changes; this isn’t a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilie’s love interest being from an Italian family and Eilie not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilie though for me she was in a way a ‘nice and intrigued’ pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie’s partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read… I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book. In all honesty this is not only one of my books of 2009, its also the book I think really should have won the Booker.

Back With A Bang… (Or A Competition)

•December 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Finally… I hear you cry. It has taken some time and some sorting, and is still very much a work in progress (but then arent all blogs always), but finally the new improved WordPress version of ‘The Great Gay Reads’ is up and running. In the move some blog posts have vanished, some have appeared and some have been moved, its a little crazy but over the next week or so everything will have been sorted and all should be well.  

As a bit of a thank you to all of you who have been so patient whilst waiting for this blog to appear I have anaged to pull a few strings and have a bit of a competition for you which will be open until next Monday. I have some lovely copies of the first three in the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin to give away thanks to the lovely people at  Black Swan/Transworld/Random House (it gets very confusing when you are chasing books and people in publishers hahahaha) you can see them below…

So all you have to do is send the answer to the following question:
“What number was the address that Mary Ann Singleton moved into and who was
her land lady?”

Please email your answer (comments won’t count – though do comment delightfully on the new site as your feedback is very important) to greatgayreads@googlemail.com Good luck!

The Breaking Point – Daphne Du Maurier

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As I constantly drum into the heads of anyone that will listen, I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier, even though I have actually own read ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘The Parasites’ and ‘The Rendezvous and Other Stories’. When Virago actually sent me a copy of the re-issued (for the first time in around two decades) ‘The Breaking Point’ I almost popped with joy. After the initial ecstatic feeling one of dread came over me… what if I didn’t like it? What if it hadn’t been published for all this time because really it just wasn’t as good as one of my favourite books ‘Rebecca’ or other greats like ‘Jamaica Inn’? well I should have had dread in mind, but not for the quality of the stories or the writing…

‘The Breaking Point’, named because “characters are caught at those moments when the delicate link between reason and emotion has been stretched to the breaking point”, was originally published in 1959 and hasn’t been published since the early 80’s. Until this year of course! Daphne has always been known to write quite dark tales however this is said to be one of her darkest which of course added to the thrill of reading the book and I have to say that these are incredibly dark and brooding indeed. Written when her husband was ill, she was relocated nearby to a small cramped flat and then faced with her husband’s long term adultery, so possibly in quite a dark place herself.

Now this is a collection of eight of her short stories and me telling you about each and every single one of them might get a little dull and ruin the objective of actually buying the books yourselves. So I will focus on a few and simply say that all of them are quite chilling, even when at first you think that they might not be.

‘Ganymede’ for example is just one such tale, it starts with what seems like a tale of “the unspeakable act” of a classical scholar who when holidaying in Venice becomes besotted and slightly obsessed with a waiter. Of course in this day and age this really isn’t that shocking, however as the tale goes on what could be a romance story has a huge twist that shocks you and is then followed by a small chapter that then makes you completely reshuffle the story and its motive as you read the last line. It’s difficult to review any of these without giving away the twists in the tale at the end which all of them have in abundance.

‘The Pool’ is slightly different, as is ‘The Archduchess’ as they both have a slight, if dark, fairytale quality to them. Both seem to be set in ‘secret other world’ and yet deal with changes in emotion. The first is very much about a girl going through puberty and the change from child to adult and all the emotions that brings, forming women from other worlds that only she can see. Whereas the latter is more about the greed and darkness of the male human psyche and its endless need to devour and control as Daphne describes the made up land of ‘Ronda’ in Europe and its demise. Emotions are also at the forefront of ‘The Chamois’ which is a tale of a couple climbing a mountain and as they climb, the more they are pushed and the more the tensions in their marriage show its incredibly clever and of course has that all important twist.

My two favourites have to be ‘The Alibi’ and ‘The Blue Lenses’ for how dark they are (though ‘The Menace’ – which does what it says – is equally dark) and both of which are easily the eeriest things that I have read in quite some time. ‘The Alibi’ actually made me think of ‘Amercian Psycho’ as a man suddenly whilst walking with his wife, realises that he could kill someone randomly and so he sets about randomly organising it. It’s really, really creepy and the randomness of his decisions and actions makes it all the more real to imagine.

‘The Blue Lenses’ reminded me in some ways of something that Margaret Atwood might come up with. Set in a nursing home Marda West undergoes an operation to bring back her sight via the power of a new find in medicine called ‘The Blue Lenses’. When her sight is regained she sees things more clearly than she thought as people’s personalities create the heads of creatures that have their traits and though it sounds slightly out fo this world and comical, when she meets the person with the snakes head I promise it will chill you and turn you cold.

This is a fantastic collection of short stories be you a fan of Daphne or not! If you like complex and psychological, suspenseful and dark, if you like looking into the depths of the human mind or if you just want a fantastic read I cannot recommend this collection strongly enough. Daphne once again delivers, and it’s a treat for all those who turn the pages.