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The Heart in Exile by Rodney Garland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The novel is one of the first to openly discuss homosexuality in England, printed originally in 1953.
The book starts off well, along the standard detective line, with a femme fatale coming in to the shop and asking for help, her fiancé is dead and she wants answers.
Our hero detective is a gay (bisexual?) psychiatrist who takes the case due to his own involvement with the deceased and the book plays out as a series of investigations into the death.
There's several good things in the book, and it is worth reading. There's a lengthy tour of the British "underground" which is what they call the queer network. Gays would pick a bar, all go there until it was raided, and then pick another bar. There were no gay bars, only this network relay system. For a slice of post-war gay life in Britain, this book is it, and it portrays the scene well.
The mystery of the plot is okay, if a little half-baked.
The main problem is the extreme emphasis on social status. The class system was alive and well in London in the early 1950's and is mentioned on nearly very page. Generalizations pour off the pages, all working-class people stick together, you can spot working class people even if they try to hide it, the working-class have an inferiority complex, the upper-class have had too much of the Communist ideology so prevalent today, etc, etc.
There is the odd pro-gay passage, the narrator himself is gay, but overall this was the most negative book on homosexuality I've ever read. Inverts will never have real love, "normals" have it better, etc. Combine this with the constant class references, inverts who are lower-class can fit in better, etc, and it gets to be too much.
This class system presented doesn't exist in my life or way of thinking, so many of the pages and pages of generalizations about the different classes really washed over me. For example, the narrator goes to a party and everyone in the room is lower class and they're all staring at the three upper-class people in the corner with a mixture of jealousy and hatred. Class, class, class.
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