Our series London in Literature is back and this time, we’re celebrating all things London in LGBTQIA+ Literature on World Book Day 2021! February was LGBTQ+ History Month, and we here at SASiety shared some of our favourite international LGBTQ+ books with you all. We soon realised that so many LGBTQ+ stories – both fiction and non-fiction – are set in and around London, so we decided to showcase these titles separately.
Let us know what you think of our picks down in the comments
Natalia's pick: Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Orlando by Virginia Woolf, first published on 11th October 1928 by Hogarth Press. 134 pages.
Perhaps this is cheating ever so slightly, as the novel is not set entirely in London, with the action also taking place in Constantinople, the English country home of Orlando, and in a jaunt across the Balkans with a group of travelling Romany people. However, London does recur as a setting throughout the novel across various time periods, most memorably for me in the skating scene across the frozen River Thames, which is peppered with morsels of beautiful Woolfian prose. By allowing her protagonist, amongst other characters, to change gender over the course of Orlando, she makes the case for a more fluid understanding of gender and critiques the rigidity that often accompanies the social roles of “man” and “woman”. Inspired by the family history of Vita Sackville-West, Woolf’s lover and longtime friend, Orlando appears to work on many levels. Whether that is as a satire, an adventuring romp through the centuries and across Europe, or indeed, as Nigel Nicolson puts it, ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’.
Monja's pick: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is a must read. It is not entirely set in London but then again it would not capture the many different British voices if it was. Somewhere between Newcastle and London, between poetry and prose, Evaristo unfolds the lives of 12 women, each with their own struggles, all somehow connected. It is also a history of the black British experience. Each character is distinct in their voice sharing their own histories with the reader; giving us a glimpse of their backgrounds and roots, their families and sexuality. It is a book about multicultural sensitivity, about women, about love in all shapes and forms. As readers we are presented with the opportunity to engage in discourses on race, sex and gender and to question ourselves. We not only learn about the life stories of the 12 protagonists but also about marginalized voices in contemporary Britain. Almost a fantastic book, in my opinion, it can get confusing at times with the many different biographies and interconnections. However, the collage of women’s voices is beautifully composed overall. And one more thing: don’t let the absence of punctuation cloud your judgement.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, first published on 2nd May 2019 by Hamish Hamilton. 453 pages.
Booker Prize 2019
Orwell Prize Nominee for Political Fiction
Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee
Reading Women Award for Fiction
Conny's pick: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, first published on 2nd July 2015 by Bloomsbury Publishing. 318 pages.
Betty Trask Award
Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is probably not the most obvious pick for London-based LGBTQIA+ fiction. The story is a curious mix of historical fiction, steampunk and magical realism. Set in 1883 in London, it’s the story of two men and their friendship that grows against the odds. Thaniel is a young Home Office clerk who is brought to Mori’s shop on Filigree Street after finding a mysterious pocket watch. This shop is filled with beautiful, wonderuous, and intricate machines that seem to have a mind of their own, like a clockwork octupus named Katsu who steals socks. As the story unfolds we learn that there is so much more to both Thaniel and Mori than meets the eye. They both have gifts that make them different – one can see the future, while the other is a synesthete who sees sounds. Natasha Pulley also takes us on a tour of Meiji era Japan and Victorian London, from Whitehall to the Japanese immigrant communities. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street deals with such serious issues as racism, prejudice, gender inequality, homophobia, nationalism, and the westernization of Japan, yet still reads like a cosy story about two men in a shop with a mechanical octopus as a pet.
Islay's pick: Wildthorn by Jane England
Poppy's pick: Venus as a boy by Luke Sutherland
Venus as a boy by Luke Sutherland, first published on 18th March 2004 by Bloomsbury. 146 pages.
Venus as a Boy concerns a room in Soho, where Désirée is turning to gold. Désirée’s transformation began growing up in Orkney, where they first discovered they had the gift of love – something not as joyful as may first seem. Their life has seen them go from awkward Orkney boy to the party girl of soho, has been filled with both bullying and adoration, intense loneliness and the sort of sex that makes people believe in heaven. Venus as a Boy reads very much like a fairy-tale of old, holding up a mirror to sex and sexuality and raising questions without trying to provide any answers. Is Désirée’s transformation a reward for their services to Venus, or the price one has to pay for such a gift? For such a short novella, Sutherland leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the reader.
Elena's pick: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
When one thinks of LGBT+ books, maybe Virginia Woolf isn’t the first person to pop into one’s mind, and yet Mrs Dalloway is a novel charged with the significance of queerness and sexuality in middle age. Taking place in a day in the heart of London, Mrs Dalloway is a book concerning two characters: upper middle class, Clarissa Dalloway, who is preparing for a party, and Septimus Warren Smith who is contemplating suicide. Though they are from different cultural and social spheres, both of these characters are placed in a heteronormative context in which they don’t belong. Alex Zwerdling in Virginia Woolf and the Real World noted how Virginia Woolf’s language is not “the language of sexual liberation, but it is scarcely the language of Victorian sexual convention. In its own quiet manner, Woolf’s treatment of the subject was helping her readers to think in a new way.”
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, first published on 14th May 1925 by Hogarth Press. 214 pages.
Can you suggest any other not-to-miss titles? We’d love to hear your recommendations! Let us know in the comments or on our social media!
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