The Gay Divorcee – Paul Burston

I first read a book by Paul Burston when I was the tender age of nineteen. I had not long moved to London and though I had been out of the closet for quite some time I hadn’t really read any gay fiction. This was the year that ‘Shameless’ came out, if you will excuse the pun, it was a book which made me desperate to share a house with my fabulous friends and go out and get wasted dancing my life away… and indeed I did. Sometimes you read books at a certain point in your life and they reflect an aspiration in your life and Shameless was one of those (I will be reading it again this year so wonder if it will do the same).

Now eight years later I think if I had read The Gay Divorcee I wouldn’t have left the house ha! Let me explain… The Gay Divorcee is a book of two halves. The main story is about Bar Owner and Manager Phil Davies who is due to marry the man he adores (who everyone else despises) Ashley also known as ‘The Incredible Sulk’ in six months time. However Phil has a secret, for he actually got married twenty years before to Hazel a woman he is technically still married to as they never actually got divorced.

Through both Phil and Ashley and their circle of friends (who predominantly, a bit like the couple, are vain, vile and a bit venomous and therefore very readable) and the couples career’s we get to see Soho at it’s most materialistic and mercenary, a side of which is very much there though people don’t tend to talk about it. Okay so they do… but behind peoples backs rather than publish it in a book which Burston should indeed be given credit for bravery alone.

From gay DJ’s, journalists, photographers, bar boys, invite openers everyone is put under the microscope and many people might not like what they see or be far too flattered at having a book written with them in, or oddly won’t realise that they are those people. Having myself worked in those circles but hopefully stayed fairly normal I laughed out loud and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Actually maybe I wouldn’t have stayed indoors if I had read this aged twenty maybe I would have been more prepared for the perils that lie in wait? Despite these fabulously self obsessed characters in the heart of Soho is a love story just waiting to come out (oh there’s that pun again) and might just involve a character from the pages of Shameless. I loved these parts of the book as rays of hope and light filled the pages they were on.

Away from the heart of Soho is Hazel’s story and in away that’s a second heart of the book and one I found quite moving in parts. Hazel ends up back in Wales after the death of her partner who she lived abroad with. In coming back to a place with the highest rate of teenage suicides in Wales she faces the demons of her teenage years, of her family and of her present. I felt I went on a real journey with Hazel which not only contrasted with the fabulous fake and flamboyant setting of Soho for other parts of the book but actually, I think, could have been a stand alone book by itself too.

A rollercoaster of a book all in all, it chews you up spits you out and like all good guilty pleasures leaves you walking away with a smile on your face, partly because of all the double entendres (Julian Clary may have competition) partly because of the sadistic humour and partly because of the surprise happy ending… I will shush before I give anything away!

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~ by greatgayreads on August 18, 2009.

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