Jakob Tynan and Rory Biggs O’May share two unmissable works celebrating queer identities and relationships for LGBT History Month.
Jakob Tynan, on On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
So very occasionally does a novel take your breath away with such delicacy, such sublimity, that it goes almost unnoticed until you put it down. For me, this kind of experience is rare, a breath truly caught in the throat, a sentence lingering for days. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, at once exploring the chest-tightening depth of adolescent feelings in the negotiations of an emerging queerness, and the fraught narratives of intergenerational identities of a Vietnamese immigrant family in the contemporary ‘American moment’.
Written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, the novel’s profundity unfurls to us both beautifully and brutally. The magic of this form is in its stunning vulnerability; the speaker, Little Dog, confides in the reader of the identity, the questions, the thoughts and experiences that he understands his mother will never know.
Vuong paints an honest and self-reflective portrait of love and identity, never shying away from their inextricable correlates of pain and confusion, but rather embraces them and encourages us do so too.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is crafted in a way that reads as poetry as much as it does prose, breathtaking but unapologetically raw – a story of ‘how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy’.
Rory Biggs O’May, on Giovanni’s Room
Anyone familiar with James Baldwin’s writing understands the subtle depths that his analytical writings plumb. Giovanni’s Room explores the nuances of repressed queer love, a love that manages to straddle both intense desire and cold dismissal. Juxtaposed with the more familiar narrative of coming-of-age sexual awakening, Baldwin here brilliantly explores the troubling and contorted nature of a blossoming homosexuality in a heterosexual world, a world in which queer culture is ostracised to the peripheries and forced into a murky sphere of transaction and ownership.
Gender is intimately intertwined with sexuality in Baldwin’s narrative discussion; the precariousness of masculinity, defined by a rigid sexual morality that has long ceased to be relevant, becomes painfully apparent in the performativity of the protagonist. Giovanni’s Room provides an artistic insight into the complexities of marginalised sexuality, one which grips the reader from start to finish and leaves them in a place from which they were previously absent.
Illustration: Paula Convery.