All The Beauty Of The Sun
282 pages • Accent Press • May 9, 2012 [PB]
This book made me angry – but in a good way.
The second part of The Boy I Love trilogy, All the Beauty of the Sun is set in London in 1925 and picks up on the life and loves of Paul Harris, who in the first part returned home to Blighty from the horrors of the trenches a war hero, only to find his life spiralling out of control, resulting in ignominy, shame and public disgrace. Now he returns once more to London from self-imposed exile in Tangiers for an exhibition of his paintings.
The problem, of course, is that Paul is gay and, in these pre-1967 days, that is a very dangerous condition indeed for a man to find himself in, especially when he has married and had a child as Paul has. An effeminate gay man might find some grudging understanding (though no mercy) for being sick or feeble-minded, but when a straight-acting man affects middle-class respectability only to betray it in the most flagrant manner, the law is implacable and society unforgiving.
Paul returns reluctantly to London, not only physically damaged from the war and his two years’ hard labour following his conviction for buggery, but also psychologically scarred. His exhibition at The Python Art Gallery, however, is a sell-out success, a succès de scandale in fact, which brings him much-needed money to indulge his taste for fine clothes and dining but does little to sort out his daemons – in fact, if anything, it makes them worse.
In a song of the same period Noël Coward writes: “in lives of leisure, the craze for pleasure steadily grows/cocktails and laughter, but what comes after nobody knows”. It is this brittle, damaged, doomed tone which pervades Husband’s novel and sometimes tips over into a self-pitying wallow on the part of all those embroiled in this sorry saga. It was this that made me angry, not with the writer but the characters, and I found myself wanting to scream ‘for God’s sake get a grip!’ But then I recalled just how far-reaching the implications of a conviction for homosexuality at this time were, and continued to be for many decades – as we know from the real-life tragedies of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Alan Turing in the 1950s.
In this sense, All the Beauty of the Sun, whilst far from being a polemic, serves as a salutary warning not to judge those who went before us by contemporary standards. It is also an object lesson in the dangers of complacency – we could easily slip back into this and, indeed parts of Europe, especially in the East (as we have seen in Ukraine and Russia recently) have never escaped it.
If this all sounds a shade too heavy for summer reading, fear not. Whilst it is undoubtedly a thought-provoking work, it is also an entertaining read, impeccably well-researched and beautifully written. Take a deep breath – and enjoy!