Encapsulate the book in one sentence? Gay writers of the world, unite. Okay, tell me more. An extensive collection of gay fiction from an impressive line-up of queer writers both established and new. Did you finish it? Did it work for you? It was on my favourites of 2015 list before I’d even reached halfway. Frankly, it’s mind-boggling how an anthology with so many stories in it can have such a high hit-rate of solid fiction. There are a lot of stories in here, and barely a handful which I didn’t care for. For a collection of this size, that’s amazing.
I bought the collection for Paul Magrs’ prose adaption of his exceptional radio play Imaginary Boys, which is customarily excellent. That aside, my highlights were: Shadowsby Damon Galgut. A delicate sliver of a coming-of-age story, it has that illusory feel of magic realism without actually being so, and I really loved this story. A Night With Mr Goldstein by Colin Spencer. Catty and funny with underlying bite. It starts slow but ends very funny, with a high point that made me snort with laughter on a train full of people. Eric In Retirementby Robert Cochrane. A poem! A sharply-observed, gently comedic and ultimately poignant snapshot. The Halfway House by Cliff James. My favourite of the collection by a country mile, this tells the story of a man who has consigned himself to squalor being rehabilitated by the appearance of an angel. Emotive, erotic and completely sidesteps the potential hokiness of the concept. Caesar’s Gallic Wars by Neil Bartlett. Bartlett is capable of creating character portraits that are both strange and intimate within even the shortest of stories, and though this story is nothing more than a fragment really, I found it utterly beguiling. Past Caring by Rupert Smith. If there was a gay version of Falling Down, this is how it would begin. The Good Butler by TonyPeake is in my opinion the most sharply-observed character in the collection, with a satisfying ending that gives a good kicking to the well-worn queer-lit trope of the past-it gay man powerless in the face of youth.
My choices veer towards my own personal preferences (spec lit, magic realism, coming of age, gothic, irony…); there are plenty of stories to choose from to suit all tastes, and the stories are pleasingly diverse. Cannot recommend enough. Is it available today? Speak My Language is out now from Little, Brown.