BOOKS: PATRICK GALE AND MORE
With almost 20 books to his name, Gale has often included gay and lesbian characters in his novels although they have usually tended to be secondary, not the main focus.
Then, in 2015, he published A Place Called Winter, a historical novel about a man banished from London after a homosexual scandal to the wilds of Canada. It proved to be one of his most successful books, earning him a prestigious Costa Novel Prize nomination.
He followed up by writing the TV series
The Man In The Orange Shirt, the centrepiece production of the BBC’s 2017 Gay Britannia season. This dual portrait of gay men in the 1940s and the present day was a hit with the critics and viewers alike.
His new novel, Take Nothing With You also features a gay lead character. Eustace, who we see largely as a teenager, is pursuing his passion for the cello, encouraged by his bohemian teacher, Carla, who lives with a gay male couple.
Eustace lives in a retirement home for the elderly that his parents manage. The strength of these coming-of-age sections is the limited point of view that young Eustace has of people and events because he’s too young to fully understand or because he’s willfully deceived by the adults around him.
Some sections of the novel are set in the present-day with Eustace, now 50, enlivened by a new long-distance love affair with a soldier. A health crisis proves not to be what the reader expects: it’s revealed in the first few pages that he is HIV-positive but that’s not the issue. Rather, Eustace has thyroid cancer. At one point he is obliged to take a radioactive iodine pill and spend 24 hours in a lead-lined isolation room. When he’s free to leave, he’s instructed to “take nothing with you”.
But the real heart of the novel is Eustace’s passion for the cello, his destiny as a musician, and how this plays out. The details of cello playing is extremely impressive, based closely on Gale’s own experiences.
This coming-of-age novel is a wonderful evocation of youth and its mysteries, enlivened with some memorable characters, including a few complicated monsters. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DIRT by Rick Morton Morton is a journalist and this memoir of his upbringing on an immense farming station in the Australian outback is immediately attentiongrabbing and atmospheric but may also be startling to city-dwellers as the hardships of this existence are revealed.
It’s not immediately apparent that there is anything remotely gay-themed about
One Hundred Years Of Dirt – though praise from Christos Tsiolkas on the cover may be construed as a hint.
Rick’s family owned five cattle stations that were collectively the size of Belgium: about 30,000 sq kms. But life in the outback is unforgiving and can sometimes prove fatal. A family travelling by car break down on Christmas Eve in an isolated spot and eventually succumb to the 50-C heat. Their bodies are found by Morton’s grandfather. A great wind sweeps sand inside a farmhouse, caking a baby in her cradle. Rick’s brother is consumed by a fireball, due to a careless farmyard accident.
The book opens with the attention-grabbing line that Rick’s sister Lauryn has taken up hunting wild pigs. It will be startling to urban readers, but rather humdrum to country folk. Hunting in rural communities is commonplace and, yes, women turn their hand to it.
But what is also fascinating about this memoir is that Rick is gay, so this upbringing was especially challenging. This is one of the most evocative and distinctive Australian books of the year.
Seek it out! MIKE ARLEN’S GUYS
In the age of digital photography in which every image we see is heavily retouched, it’s difficult to know just how much an image truly represents the person in it. So there’s something deliciously refreshing about the photography of Mike Arlen, published in his series of soft-cover magazines. By today’s standards, these are “old school” and are all the better for it.
Arlen’s guys are sexy in a “regular guy next door” way. There are soldiers, plumbers, leather boys, guys in kilts, men soaping-up in showers, men together. Expect plenty of huge, hard cocks – this is Arlen’s specialty. His signature poses include men with their legs wide apart, the camera shooting up at their raging hard-ons and hairy butt holes, and the reverse, which sees the models on all fours, butt towards the camera and hard-on pushed down towards the camera.
These images are raw and real – you can see the sweat and the lube glistening on flesh. You won’t find these online; they’re only available in print, reviving the illicit thrill of receiving a dirty magazine in the mail! For the contact details, see Mike’s ad on page 55 of this issue.
Mikes Arlen’s Guys Volume 12 is out now!