Gay Writing
December 14, 2008 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend good novels about gay people? Not just genre fiction but actually literature? It seems to me there must be, but I've never been able to find any.
posted by blue shadows to Writing & Language (56 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I remember a good novel by Mary Renault called the Charioteer.
posted by RussHy at 4:51 AM on December 14, 2008

The Charioteer by Mary Renault, A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, and The Weekend by Peter Cameron are all excellent. I will probably think of about a thousand more in a minute.
posted by feathermeat at 4:52 AM on December 14, 2008

HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN Nightwood by Djuna Barnes. One of the best books I've ever read, although it can be kind of hard going until you get used to the style. If you have read a lot of Joyce, you will be well-prepared for Nightwood.
posted by feathermeat at 4:59 AM on December 14, 2008

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst won the Booker Prize a few years ago. It's wonderfully written.
posted by bluefly at 5:03 AM on December 14, 2008

Depends on your definition of literature, but, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues has a hell of a lot of lesbians in it.
posted by mannequito at 5:06 AM on December 14, 2008

Mysteries of Pittsburgh by michael chabon.
posted by billysumday at 5:14 AM on December 14, 2008

If you haven't already, check out Armistead Maupin. Start with Tales of the City and work your way to Michael Tolliver Lives.
posted by skylar at 5:17 AM on December 14, 2008

Anything by Mary Renault. Her world is of ancient Greece and the Hellenes or ancient Persia in the case of the Persian Boy, whose background intersects with Alexander the Great. I found the sexual tones understated and the portrayal of homosexuality and bisexuality not over emphasized but considered a natural part of the culture being portrayed.

Some may complain that her portrayal of females, as side characters, in her male dominated plots are flat but, to the ancient Greek male, the world of women is opaque.
posted by jadepearl at 5:50 AM on December 14, 2008

The Lost Language of Cranes, by David Leavitt.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:51 AM on December 14, 2008

Maurice by E.M. Forster - probably one of the earliest written (1913) but not published till 1971... In relation to British LGBT literature Wikipedia has a list here...
posted by Chairboy at 5:54 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Picture of Dorian Gray if you want to be subtle about it. Will Self's Dorian is a less subtle retelling of the story, and I highly recommend it. Also, The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
posted by teraspawn at 6:00 AM on December 14, 2008

The works of Denton Welch, although they can be a bit on the rare side.
From this blog post:
Some might accuse Welch of being an overly precious writer, which, in fact, he is. He’s the kind of obsessive queen for whom the perfect teacup, jam and biscuits are infinitely more important than, say, world peace. But beneath the preciousness is the fertile grit of humanness. Welch’s self-awareness rarely slips into self-indulgence because his pointed observational powers dissect everything and everyone in his path, narrow as it was. He was a literary psychologist with an equally keen eye for damaged china and hypocrisy.
Not just genre fiction but actually literature?
Isn't one of the issues here that literature with gay themes almost always gets ghettoized into the gay-genre-fiction area, sort of in the same way that literature with fantastic or scientific themes gets ghettoized as sci-fi?

Oh, and that reminds me: Samuel Delany's Dhalgren!
posted by bcwinters at 6:05 AM on December 14, 2008

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.
posted by juva at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2008

Seconded The Line of Beauty. Much more readable than The Swimming Pool Library.
posted by mippy at 6:20 AM on December 14, 2008

Entire English lit courses are devoted to this. But to start:

Anything by Jean Genet.

I was on a complete Genet jag a few years ago and Our Lady of the Flowers, The Thief's Journal, The Miracle of The Rose, and Querelle absolutely blew my mind - I'd never read anything like them.

And I really enjoyed Edmund White's bio of Genet too.

Don't forget the book I always think of as The First Lesbian Novel: Radclyffe Hall's Well of Loneliness.

You browse the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Queer Encycopaedia's Literature section for more suggestions.
posted by t0astie at 6:21 AM on December 14, 2008

I mean, you CAN browse it, if you want.
posted by t0astie at 6:21 AM on December 14, 2008

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin is a fantastic book, though a little bit, you know, miserable.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 6:31 AM on December 14, 2008

David Leavitt's While England Sleeps is quite good. Paul Russell's Sea of Tranquility also comes to mind.
posted by bassjump at 6:32 AM on December 14, 2008

Maybe check out The Gay and Lesbian Review? It covers a lot of GLBT writing, would kind of let you know what's being published.
posted by FortyT-wo at 6:44 AM on December 14, 2008

Sarah Waters - I particularly liked The Night Watch.
posted by meerkatty at 6:55 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

seconding giovanni's room, especially if you're interested in the past.
posted by alkupe at 7:11 AM on December 14, 2008

David Leavitt is a gem of a writer. Jim Grimsley is also good.

Avoid Christopher Rice at all costs.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:12 AM on December 14, 2008

This question seems slightly strange to me! There's so much "gay" fiction out there, if what you mean by "gay fiction" is "fiction with gay main characters."

Funny Boy comes immediately to mind, as well as Michael Chabon's fiction, already mentioned, and Michael Cunningham's, who weirdly hasn't come up yet. There's also Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which is about an intersex individual growing up and includes sexual interactions that are, at the time, more or less homosexual. In fact, wikipedia has a nice list.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:20 AM on December 14, 2008

Lots of stuff I'd mention already been mentioned. Let me add At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill, which I loved back when it came out.
posted by Kattullus at 7:37 AM on December 14, 2008

lots of stuff by:

Christopher Isherwood
James Baldwin
Truman Capote (especially 'Answered Prayers')
(2nding) Samuel Delaney
Bret Easton Ellis
Noel Coward
Jean Genet
Tennessee Williams
Gore Vidal
posted by mr. remy at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2008

Alison Lurie almost always has gay characters in her books.
posted by orange swan at 8:15 AM on December 14, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:44 AM on December 14, 2008

Andrew Holleran , John Rechy and Alex Chee's Edinburgh
posted by brujita at 8:54 AM on December 14, 2008

Edmund White's Nocturnes for the King of Naples really amazed me.
posted by rmless at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2008

In Kate Christensen's "The Great Man" one of the main characters is gay.

Nth-ing all the above suggestions.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past certainly counts as one of the greatest novels ever, and it has gay/homosexual/invert characters. It also helps to know that the central love story, between the narrator and Albertine, is really the story of Proust and his chauffeur, Alfred Agnostinelli. Seriously- the description of the narrator's obsessive love is a little strange as a heterosexual obsession, but makes a whole lot more sense if you substitute a young man for the young woman.
posted by acrasis at 9:39 AM on December 14, 2008

David Leavitt (especially Lost Language of Cranes) and Paul Monette are my two favorites.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:06 AM on December 14, 2008

James Purdy, under-appreciated and totally awesome.

Maurice, by EM Forster is really good.

There's really tons of good gay fiction, either by gay authors or featuring gay people. It might help to know what you're interested in in literature (time period, style, conflicts, lyricism, age or class of characters, locale...)

If you're just asking if there is good literature w/gay characters, there's kind of a ton.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2008

There's a lot of great ambiguously-gay literature from the late 19th century. You can spend hours, for instance, arguing about whether Sebastian and Charles in the first half of Brideshead Revisited are lovers or friends (or both, or neither, or....)

Also, I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Like Middlesex, it's ostensibly about gender and not sexual orientation, but there's a love story between two women that plays a big role in the plot.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2008

Can't believe nobody has mentioned Edmund White's Farewell Symphony. It is a great novel, and a real page-turner.
posted by jayder at 11:18 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

And of course, Andre Gide, The Immoralist.
posted by jayder at 11:21 AM on December 14, 2008

Adam Mars-Jones, The Waters of Thirst. Appears to be very hard to find these days.
posted by jayder at 11:23 AM on December 14, 2008

As specifically concerns Andrew Holleran, I was particularly touched by Grief. It's a quiet, but powerful novella. (And if you've ever lived in Washington D.C., his evocation of the city will really resonate with you, I think.)
posted by Keter at 11:38 AM on December 14, 2008

The Illiad. Maybe. Still a rousing good tale.
posted by QIbHom at 11:40 AM on December 14, 2008

How about Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar.
posted by Kirklander at 12:15 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown.
posted by tejolote at 1:37 PM on December 14, 2008

Anything by Dorothy Allison, although I prefer her autobiographical essays.
posted by tejolote at 1:38 PM on December 14, 2008

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.

One of the best opening lines out there:
"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

The book is partly about homosexuality in the early twentieth-century, but also about aging, war, artistic failure (and commercial success), censorship, Catholicism, and a few other subjects. And it's very funny. Go read it!
posted by col_pogo at 2:00 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yukio Mishima's Forbidden Colors is a fascinating look at what it was like to be gay in 1950s Japan.
posted by The Straightener at 2:43 PM on December 14, 2008

I just want to mention Michael Cunningham again. The Hours is a kind-of retelling of Mrs. Dalloway and it's completely fantastic -- especially if you read it after the Woolf book, so you can see how he reworks all these subtle details. (The movie's good too, but the book is better.)
posted by SoftRain at 4:33 PM on December 14, 2008

Nthing The Line of Beauty.
posted by peacheater at 4:40 PM on December 14, 2008

i second giovanni's room....amazing book but it wil make you feel miserable.
posted by lifeonholidae at 5:23 PM on December 14, 2008

I'm here to second Sarah Waters. I've enjoyed all of her books very much.
posted by vytae at 7:38 PM on December 14, 2008

Sara Waters, Emma Donoghue, Laurie R King's books featuring Kate Martinelli, Elise D'Hague's 'Licking Our Wounds', David Feinberg. I'll come up with more, but those are the best ones I know of off the top of my head.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:11 AM on December 15, 2008

Not clear on what your cut off point between genre fiction and literature is, but; Dennis Cooper, Armistead Maupin?
posted by mtarbit at 6:16 AM on December 15, 2008

Self, by Yann Martel (the author of Life of Pi), features a protagonist who spends the novel switching sexes and sexual orientations. It's better than it sounds.
posted by hayvac at 9:35 AM on December 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you very much for all the suggestions! I will certainly have to get busy reading! I wasn't quite sure how to ask the question; I guess I should have been a little more specific. What I am really looking for is stories that involve the central character in a homosexual love story, told openly rather than just through subtle hints.
posted by blue shadows at 3:29 PM on December 16, 2008

Ah, let me say then that At Swim, Two Boys is the love story of two teenage gay men.
posted by Kattullus at 8:50 PM on December 16, 2008

Susan Smith's Of Drag Kings and the Wheel of Fate, its sequel, and her new book Put Away Wet are some excellent novels about the complexities of modern lesbian/trans identities and relationships.

Leslie Feinberg's work, the YA novels of Sandra Scoppetone, and even Hemingway's The Garden Of Eden also come to mind. and Ntozake Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo have lesbian and bi women but this book is about many things besides sexuality.

And it would be funny is this thread were to end without mention of A. Maupin's Tales of The City books.
posted by Riverine at 9:11 PM on December 16, 2008

Late straggler to this party, but: Bittersweet by Nevada Barr.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:31 AM on February 18, 2009

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