THEATRE: PRISCILLA, RE­VIEWED.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

LESS

By An­drew Sean Greer

Greer is the au­thor of five pre­vi­ous nov­els but he’s hit the lit­er­ary jack­pot with this one, win­ning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize For Fic­tion. It’s some­what sur­pris­ing as his pre­vi­ous nov­els have all been in­ven­tive lit­er­ary works, while Less is his first comic novel, and the Pulitzer is usu­ally re­served for “se­ri­ous” books.

Things are not go­ing well for the novel’s main char­ac­ter, Arthur Less. He’s about to turn 50 – an un­wel­come mile­stone as, like most gay men, he’s cling­ing gamely to his youth. He’s more fa­mous for be­ing the former boyfriend of Robert Brown­burn, a lit­er­ary great, than for his own works. In fact, his pub­lisher has turned down his lat­est novel. Then the fi­nal in­dig­nity: Freddy, his younger boyfriend of the past nine years, dumps him and an­nounces his mar­riage to some­one else.

To avoid the wed­ding en­tirely by be­ing out of the coun­try, Arthur ac­cepts ev­ery du­bi­ous lit­er­ary in­vi­ta­tion that’s ex­tended to him, and em­barks on an itin­er­ary that will take him to New York, Mex­ico, Italy, Ger­many, Morocco, In­dia and Ja­pan. The Amer­i­can abroad is a peren­ni­ally pop­u­lar sub­ject in fic­tion (from Henry James and Paul Bowles through to Garth Green­well) but this must be one of the wit­ti­est ex­cur­sions ever.

In Mex­ico City, the lit­er­ary fes­ti­val di­rec­tor has dreamed up a wish list of au­thors – Hem­ing­way, Faulkner, Woolf – but as they’re all dead, has to con­tent him­self with Arthur Less on a panel with Robert Brown­burn’s ex-wife Mar­ian. Yes, Arthur is to ap­pear with the woman whose hus­band he stole decades ago.

At a party in Paris he’s ac­costed by a drunk gay writer who ac­cuses him of be­ing “a bad gay” as his books are “self­hat­ing”. In In­dia his sig­na­ture blue suit (“some­where be­tween ul­tra­ma­rine and cyanide salts”) comes to an un­timely end and, when he turns up in Italy to an ob­scure lit­er­ary prize cer­e­mony, he dis­cov­ers it’s to be judged by a group of surly teenagers.

But all these amus­ing an­tics and lit­er­ary jokes are wrapped up in very beau­ti­ful prose, and when the end­ing comes it’s a won­der­ful sur­prise to re­alise that the nar­ra­tor is some­one known to us.

This award suc­cess is richly de­served, not only for this very fine novel but also for Greer’s body of work. Hope­fully it will en­cour­age read­ers to seek out his other nov­els – The

Im­pos­si­ble Lives Of Greta Wells and The Story Of A Mar­riage – which both have ma­jor gay sto­ry­lines and are su­perb.

BLAME IT ON BIANCA DEL RIO: THE EX­PERT ON NOTH­ING WITH AN OPIN­ION ON EV­ERY­THING By Bianca Del Rio

“Bianca del Rio has been called many things – drag queen, co­me­dian, cunt! – but un­til now, au­thor was not one of them!”

She may not have qual­i­fi­ca­tions, as such, but she does have “years and years of in­sight­ful pry­ing and cor­ro­sive gos­sip” back­ing her up. So, when Leo writes to Bianca ask­ing how he should tell his girlfriend of four years that he’s gay, Bianca ad­vises Leo to tell the girlfriend that she’s not suck­ing his cock right and to call on his own ex­pe­ri­ence to give her tips!

When Cu­ri­ous Cathy asks Bianca where her favourite place to fuck is, Bianca sug­gests Cathy should ask her hus­band!

If po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect hu­mour of­fends, then this book is prob­a­bly not for you, as noth­ing is off lim­its with this out­ra­geously blunt and very funny drag comic!

THE FRIENDLY ONES By Philip Hen­sher

The new novel from this gay Bri­tish writer has no gay char­ac­ters or con­tent what­so­ever, but it owes a great debt to the au­thor’s hus­band, Zaved, who was born in 1970 in East Pak­istan as a war of in­de­pen­dence erupted. Hen­sher told the story of Zaved’s child­hood in a pre­vi­ous novel, Scenes From Early Life, but here he fleshes out an ex­pan­sive and fas­ci­nat­ing story of two fam­i­lies, neigh­bours in sub­ur­ban Sh­effield, told over many decades.

Hilary Spin­ster is a white Bri­tish doc­tor with a wife and four chil­dren; while the Shar­i­ful­lahs are an up­wardly mo­bile Ben­gali fam­ily who fled the 1971 Bangladesh­i geno­cide and war with Pak­istan. The novel be­gins with Nazia and Sharif host­ing a house-warm­ing bar­be­cue for their ex­tended fam­ily. It’s a chaotic open­ing with a vast num­ber of char­ac­ters while their neigh­bour, the re­cently re­tired Doc­tor Spin­ster, is perched up a lad­der, prun­ing a tree, and ob­serv­ing the go­ings-on.

But if the reader feels over­whelmed by all these char­ac­ters, a dra­matic, life-threat­en­ing event oc­curs, sud­denly draw­ing these two fam­i­lies to­gether. It hooks the reader into the lives of, first, the Spin­sters, and then the Shar­i­ful­lahs, over many decades and al­most 600 pages. It’s a deeply re­ward­ing and plea­sur­able read, al­though prob­a­bly best at­tempted when you have the time to de­vote to it.

It’s also likely to pro­vide an ed­u­ca­tion into the re­cent his­tory of Bangladesh, of which, many Aus­tralian read­ers will likely have scant knowl­edge. The richly de­vel­oped char­ac­ters are a high­light of the book, from the com­i­cally ghastly off­spring of the Spin­ster chil­dren through to a first-class vil­lain, Mah­fouz. He is Sharif’s brother-in-law who is re­ferred to as a war crim­i­nal early on and then, grad­u­ally, the ex­tent of his treach­ery is re­vealed. It’s a re­mark­able novel, es­pe­cially as much of it is based, not from the au­thor’s di­rect ex­pe­ri­ences, but from those of his hus­band, and pre­sum­ably ob­ser­va­tion and re­search.

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