Gaywyck - Vincent Vigra
I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. I’ve always loved nineteenth century literature: Wilkie Collins, the Brontes, Mrs Gaskill, Dickins. This novel has all the elements of the gothic romance, but it’s gay, too. It’s just about perfect!
All the elements of good gothic romance are here: house parties, secrets, confused identities, personal journals stolen and read, misunderstandings, secret tunnels, mystery people in attics, and at the heart of the tale, some great, dark horror awaits. None of this is taken too seriously though; it has the delightful touch that Jane Austen brings to Northanger Abbey—ironic but utterly affectionate tribute to the very style of novel it purports to decry.
This book is fascinating in the way it shows the dilemma that gay men of fortune and standing faced in the past. They have to marry and have children—they are the only ones who can pass down family wealth and names. It’s a situation ripe for betrayal and heartache. After reading this, you do have to wonder why Darcy wasn’t married earlier, what his exact relationship with Bingley was…. Okay, I’m being flippant….
Jane Austen has often been criticised for portraying a world in one, narrow social class—we never see what the numerous servants do, think or say in her novels. You could say that about homosexuality in almost all nineteenth century novels. Where is the gay history? It was certainly happening: gay politicians, generals, clergy, writers…. But their voices were stifled. Heterosexuals had all the power, and their literature reflects that. There’s an old African proverb that says, “Until lions learn to write, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter”. Well, glory be, the lions have learnt to write. In Gaywyck, the young houseguest is male and he falls in love with his male employer. It’s such a great twist.
Robert Whyte, seventeen, brought up reading gothic novels as he lay a—self-professed—invalid at home is thrown on his own resources when his father forces him to leave. He’s offered a position as librarian at Gaywyck, the house of the enigmatic Donnough Gaylord. He first meets Donnough in New York, and falls under his spell.
Life at the beautiful Gaywyck seems idyllic, but gradually the beauty of the house is revealed as merely the lid over the squirming horrors of the past.
Robert has to grow up quickly, put aside his childish illusions and fancies, and become active, not the passive invalid he once was. He has to learn to see what is truth and what is delusion.
There is no graphic sex in this book at all. There’s plenty of sex, but as Robert narrates the story, and his voice is utterly authentic, it’s described along the lines of: our passion flowed between us…. I was slightly disappointed by this, until I’d finished the book, for then the whole thing is such a perfect whole that I saw how right this was.
The only reservation I have about this book is that it’s not particularly accessible if you come to it cold—without the benefit of being fairly intimate with the style and well versed on the authors I mention above. However, out of all the books we’ve read, this is the one I just could not put down. If I’d had a flickering candle blowing in the draught from a secret passage, I’d have huddled over it until the wee small hours. As it was I had to make do with electricity and a comfortable bed, but I was there in spirit!
Utterly compelling (if you like nineteenth century novels).