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Filed under: C, English, GLBT interest, Historical
While England Sleeps
by David Leavitt
First line: In the early 1950s, history and politics conspired to create a circumstance in which it was impossible for me to ply my chosen trade—namely, writing.
Back cover blurb:
At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.
But Edward possesses ‘an unproblematic capacity to accept’ Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suitable young woman. Pushed to the point of crisis, Edward threatens to volunteer to fight Franco in Spain.
In While England Sleeps, David Leavitt, highly praised for his precisely observed portrayal of the complexity of intimate relationships, depicts the violent drama of war and forbidden love in a historical novel of great resonance and breadth.
Thoughts: I’ve read one other book by Leavitt (The Lost Language of Cranes) and since I really liked that, I was prepared to be swept off my feet by this one, especially given that it’s set in 1930’s England with commies and queers. Really, I thought, there was no way I could not like it. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong.
At first, I really struggled with it. I found the language a little irritating and not at all fitting the story (I guess I had a bit of a problem with how this American author wrote a British middle-class man, even if said man had lived in the US for decades), so I put it down and I didn’t touch it for a little over a week. Then I started again and I suddenly found myself dragged in and not bothered by the language much at all.
Of course, though, being a story of commies (though not as much as I’d thought) and queers, it was doom, doom, DOOM all the way through. I wonder why I ever think it’s going to turn out differently?
Like I said, it won me around a little by the end, but not enough to earn it more than a C.