Books That Made Me: LGBT Fiction

In the final part of my Books That Made Me series of posts, I’m going to be recommending some of the books I’ve loved that have had a big influence on my life and don’t fit into any of the categories I’ve looked at so far (Non-Fiction and YA Fiction).

In my first post I talked about the lack of LGBT voices in the literature I read growing up, and how desperate I was to find any characters I felt represented who I was. Since officially becoming an adult I’ve discovered many books that almost make me cry with how much they speak about who I am, and I’m discovering new ones every day.

Below are three recommendations of the books that I think have had the biggest impact on who I am and how I see the world:

The Story of the Night  – Colm Tóibín
This novel is a powerful tale of the conflict between who we are and who the world sees. Set in Argentina and moves from the Falklands war to the spectre of AIDS. It’s a story of secrets and fear but is ultimately a story of complicated love.

 

 

 


Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

I think my goal in life is to be able to write something as beautiful as this novel. An exquisite romance between a teenage boy and a young man that blossoms during a hot summer on the Italian Riviera. Full of sensuality, obsession, passion, and intimacy it’s a perfect novel for hot summer days and cold nights when you want to pretend you’re basking in the sunshine.

 

 

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
This novel is one of those quiet, almost understated stories, that sinks deep without you realising. A mesmerising story of a young woman’s numerous conflicts: in the country she’s growing up in, with the society she lives in, with her mother, and with her own identity. A beautiful and hopeful love story unlike any I’ve read before.

 

 

 

 

 

How to talk about a plague

It was 1987 and my mum told me a story about her day at work. She’s a nurse and that day she was working in A&E, attending to patients waiting to go up to a ward. She tells me how she started her shift being told by another nurse “that patient has been asking for water, I’m not taking it to him, you do it.” Baffled, she asked why that nurse, and others, were refusing to take water to a patient. “He’s got AIDS”, my mum was told, as if this was answer enough for why a nurse would refuse to go near a patient. Mum thought, ‘well, I have no idea what that is, but I’m a nurse, so I’m going to help a patient’. She spent all night trying to get hold of the patients partner, a married man who was unaware his partner was possibly hours away from death.

I was 7 years old when my mum told me this story. It’s hard to imagine, for anyone who was born after the first cases of HIV were diagnosed, what it was like at the start. The lack of information on what this new disease was, the lies and rumours about how it was spread (even after it was known how, the denials that it was anything other than a gay disease).

There are some great novels and works of non-fiction that can educate and enrich your understanding of what life was like when this disease began to destroy lives, so I’m going to recommend a few you may want to start with.

If you want to learn more about just how horrific a time it was for those infected and their family and friends, you should start with How to Survive a Plague by David France. This book (and there is a documentary of the same name available) tells the story of a group of activists whose tireless campaigning changed forever the availability of drugs to combat HIV.

 

 

Paul Monette’s memoir Borrowed Time (which I reviewed a few years ago) is a devastating first-hand account of AIDS. Published in 1998 it is an intimate account of love and loss which has haunted me since the day I first read it.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt in a novel which brings HIV into the lives of young people through the eyes of a 14 year old who loses her beloved uncle to the disease. She has to confront prejudice and secrets caused by both HIV and homophobia within her family and her community.

The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín is a novel which doesn’t focus on AIDS as a central theme, but where the disease seeps its way into every aspect of the character’s life. Set in Argentina in the 1980s it tells the story of Richard, his family struggles, and relationship difficulties, set against a backdrop of political turmoil.

I’ve recommended the books above because these are the ones that I’ve read, but there are many more that explore the early days of AIDS and its effect on individuals, communities, and the world. Let me know your recommendations of any you’ve read. I really want to read some contemporary novels that deal with HIV so any recommendations are welcome.