Best Books of 2016

If 2015 was a strong year for LGBT writing, then 2016 truly grabbed the baton and ran with it, says Stephen Boylan.

 

One of the most welcome (and, for many, most surprising) novels of the year was Graham Norton’s fiction debut, Holding. Set in the fictional Cork village of Duneen, the story focuses on the discovery of a body on an old farm and the ramifications the find has for the local residents. Shot through with a considerable dose of warmth and empathy, the book received almost universal raves for its deftness of touch and its strong portrayal of female characters.

Also receiving huge acclaim on its release in April was Kate Tempest’s formidable The Bricks That Built the Houses. Expanding the storyline from her Mercury-nominated album Everybody Down, the novel centres on a close-knit group of friends, fleeing London after a drug deal goes bad. At its heart is Becky, an aspiring dancer who meets her boyfriend Pete while waitressing, but slowly ends up falling for his sister, high-end drug dealer Harry.

Given Tempest’s reputation as an uncompromising spoken word artist, it’s not at all surprising that this is a stylishly written book. However she manages to combine this with nuanced telling and layered back stories, making Bricks one of the most accomplished and fulfilling books of the year.

There was delight for Belfast author Paul McVeigh in October when he carried off the Polari Prize for The Good Son. The prize, now in its sixth year, celebrates the best debut books that explore the LGBT experience through poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction. The Good Son, set amidst the Troubles in the 1980s, features Mickey Donnelly, a boy roundly taunted as gay; the book was praised for its bell-clear voice running through the narrative.

From a non-fiction point of view, the year held an embarrassment of riches. Top of pile was George Hodgman’s Bettyville, a New York Times bestseller that follows the author from his home in Manhattan to his hometown of Paris, Missouri to look after his ailing mother. An unlikely, sharp-tongued, quick-witted duo, the pair must confront the fact that Betty has never really accepted that her son is gay. Hilarious and unforgettable, it has been signed up for a TV adaptation with Shirley MacLaine and Matthew Broderick (which more or less tells you all you need to know about it).

Non-fiction standouts from the entertainment world included Joe Lycett’s Parsnips, Buttered, Alan Carr’s Alanatomy, and Alan Amsby’s Before I Forget to Remember, the story of Mr Pussy, Ireland’s first drag superstar who rubbed shoulders with the great and the good throughout his career.

Also worth a mention is Martin Aston’s Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache, a look at how mainstream music
came out. From Rod Stewart to Queen to Suede, the book was a fascinating look at this openly-closeted phenomenon. Two essential reads for the politically and socially minded were Matthew Todd’s hugely important Straight Jacket (reviewed in July’s issue) and Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell’s Love Wins, the moving story of those who took the marriage equality case to the US Supreme Court.

Finally, a shout out to Penguin Random House for their Penguin Pride campaign which kicked off in June to celebrate the publisher’s LGBTQ authors. Giving a well-deserved profile boost in Pride month, it was a fantastic and timely initiative that other publishers would do well to emulate.

This piece appears in GCN 325, read it here.

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