Which are some of the great gay novels that all gay guys should try and read? Everyone’s got their own favourites, but here’s a couple of suggestions that might be worth adding to your reading list.
The Frontrunner by Patricia Nell Warren
First published in 1974, when you read The Frontrunner now this is a story that inevitably feels a bit dated. But this book was such an important story for generations of gay men that hadn’t seen themselves written about in this way before.
The novel – which is about a runner and his coach – is also the inspiration for the Frontrunners LGBTQ running clubs that have subsequently been formed around the world.
The Heart in Exile by Rodney Garland
First published in 1953, the story of The Heart in Exile is, in many ways, classic crime fiction – Julian Leclerc, a handsome and talented young barrister, has been found dead of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. The verdict is accidental death, but his fiancée, Ann Hewitt, suspects there’s something more to the story. As the grieving woman recounts the details of Julian’s tragic end to psychiatrist, Dr Tony Page, he listens with acute interest – but not for the reason she thinks. Years earlier, he and Julian had been lovers, and now, disturbed by the circumstances of his friend’s demise, Tony sets out to uncover the truth. His quest will take him from the parties and pubs of the gay underworld of 1950s London to Scotland Yard and the House of Commons as he uses his shrewd and penetrating insight to find who or what was responsible for Julian’s death. But he discovers more than he bargained for – about Julian, and himself.
At the time that it was published, The Heart in Exile was groundbreaking – the first gay detective story published in the UK.
Rodney Garland was the pseudonym of Adam de Hegedus. Born in Budapest in 1906, de Hegedus came from a middle-class, intellectually inclined family and originally intended to pursue a life in the Hungarian diplomatic service. Visiting London on a short stay in 1927, he decided instead to follow a career in journalism, and, after a stint in Paris, he returned to London and settled permanently.
De Hegedus served briefly in the Second World War before a nervous breakdown led to his discharge. Afterwards, he worked as a van driver and resumed his writing career. Under his own name, he published several volumes of autobiography, fiction, and nonfiction, but none of his other writing was as successful as The Heart in Exile – which was published in both the UK and the US and was reprinted several times. It’s believed that De Hegedus committed suicide in London in 1958.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin is a literary giant, but it’s generally his novel Giovanni’s Room that gay men connect most deeply with.
Published in 1956, the story of Giovanni’s Room is set in 1950’s Paris – a young man engaged to a woman falls for an Italian bartender and feels torn between his public and private identities.
Maurice by E.M. Forster
Written in 1914 but not published until 1971, this novel from Forster gives us the story of Maurice, his doomed romance with the aristocratic Clive, and his passionate affair with the gardener.
A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Published in 1964, most people first encountered this story via the film adaptation – directed by Tom Ford and starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.
The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
Published in 1988, this story is set in London in 1983. Will is a young gay man who saves the life of an elderly gentleman. Their chance meeting causes Will to re-evaluate his relationships and his family’s history.