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Helen Humphreys’ ‘The Evening Chorus’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

In the Lambda Award-winning Humphreys’ luminous new book, the Second World War serves as a grand backdrop for the intimate dramas of three interconnected lives. But the war has surprising effects in this lyrical and deeply compassionate novel: for all its tragedy, it also offers unimagined opportunity, even freedom, which Humphreys’ characters will later remember with longing.

EveningchorusIn the book’s first pages, James Hunter, a young pilot shot down on his first mission, parachutes into the English Channel, where he’s quickly found by a German boat and taken prisoner. As in Tatamkhulu Afrika’s powerful Bitter Eden, the indignities and deprivations of the prison camp—cold, hunger, boredom—are rendered with sometimes startling vividness.

The men are afflicted with lice, and one day James finds a man naked in their freezing bunkhouse, weeping and unable to bear putting his infested clothes back on. “With the same precision that would have been used to sew that jacket, [James] holds each seam over the flame, moving along the stitch just before the fabric catches fire. The swollen bodies of the lice make a small pop as they burst their cargo of blood above the candle.”

More difficult to defend against is the unpredictable, brutal violence the men suffer at the hands of the guards—violence that’s all the more harrowing for being leavened by equally unpredictable gestures of humanity. One of the moving aspects of these scenes is that Humphreys forces us to see all of the men in this world—most of them boys, really—as imprisoned, thrust from lives as bakers or teachers into their roles as prisoners or guards, in neither case by their own will.

While many of his fellow prisoners attempt hopeless escapes, James takes refuge from the boredom and misery of the camp by keeping meticulous notes on the behavior of a family of birds nesting just outside the camp’s perimeter. (In a note, Humphreys says that this detail is based on the real-life John Buxton, who published a book of his prison-camp observations after the war.)

James finds in this pursuit both solace from the camp and a passion that will continue after the war—a passion he was only able to discover through captivity. “Back in that other life,” Humphreys writes, "which seemed to fade more with each passing day, he didn’t have much time to watch the world. He was too busy moving through it.”

James has left behind a young wife in England, and she too finds a kind of paradoxical happiness among the misery of the war. Rose works as a bomb warden, making nightly rounds to ensure that her neighbors have fully drawn their blackout curtains. Her days are aimless and solitary, a dog her only company. “The abandonment of routine is a response to loneliness, she thinks. But it is also far less unpleasant than one would think to live in this new unstructured way.”

This idyll is interrupted when James’s sister, Enid, joins Rose in her country cottage after Enid’s London apartment is bombed. At first, Enid is distressed to find herself in the country, where “there is nothing but vegetation and few brainless hens.”

Helen-HumphreysBut then she starts to explore, beginning a kind of survey of the countryside she at first dismissed. Like her brother, Enid finds in the beauties of nature something more than solace, a value that goes beyond her own suffering:

“Each little flower has a history and cultural references, is a superstition or cure for something. Everything is its own world, and if Enid stays there, in these worlds, she won’t have to break the surface of the large, terrifying world she actually lives in.”

Humphreys’ novel follows these characters over a decade, and we see how the tensions and revelations of the weeks Enid and Rose spend together will affect the large patterns of their lives. “It’s so hard to get life right,” Enid thinks years later. “All the small balances are impossible to strike most of the time. And then there are the larger choices. It’s hopeless.”

And yet this is finally a very hopeful book, as full of joy and small redemptions as it is of grief. This is the first of Humphreys’ novels I’ve read, and I feel at once baffled to have taken so long to discover her work and grateful to have all of her previous novels ahead of me. Quietly profound and gorgeously written, The Evening Chorus is among the most moving new novels I’ve read in years.

Previous reviews...
Kim Fu’s ‘For Today I Am A Boy’
Joyce Brabner’s ‘Second Avenue Caper
Shelly Oria’s ‘New York 1, Tel Aviv 0’
Colm Tóibín’s ‘Nora Webster’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in early 2016. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Irish Labour Party Member Dominic Hannigan Reveals He Got Married In London On New Year's Eve

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Openly gay Labour Party TD (Teachta Dála) member Dominic Hannigan revealed that he married his partner of two decades, Chris, on New Year's Eve in London reports Irish NewsHannigan is the first deputy to disclose a same-sex marriage and the announcement comes ahead of a referendum in Ireland on the issue of same-sex marriage set to occur in May. Hannigan told TheJournal.ie that the process of marriage in London was rather simple.

Said Hannigan:

"The marriage was just the two of us. Because we were in a civil partnership it was very straightforward, paying four quid and signing some papers.

"There was no cake or anything. The wedding was a very straightforward exchange of papers. When we had our civil partnership ceremony we did a cake and all that kind of stuff. That was the event if you like."

Hannigan decided not to let his marriage hinge on Ireland's referendum decision, and took the opportunity to marry in London although he wishes that they could've held it in Ireland. On Sunday, Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar came out to the public and Hannigan congratulated him on it.

Said Hannigan:

"Leo will be a very positive role model for them. It will help kids to come to terms with themselves. It will make a lot of people much happier in themselves and it will lead to better mental health.

"When you have made the decision to come out, that it what you have to do. There is no point in doing it on a small scale – get it done and dusted and then it ceases to be an issue."

Hannigan publicly came out 10 years ago when he was a local councillor. Although Hannigan believes Varadkar's recent announcement helps the cause for same-marriage, there are other challenges in getting marriage equality in Ireland. Hannigan warns that complacency is the main enemy in the referendum on marriage in May, and getting complacent voters to the polls presents a unique challenge.

Said Hannigan:

"It will be a very difficult referendum to win. The enemy is complacency. No doubt, family and friends of the LGBT community will come out in force.

"But my worry is that people who do not know many people affected, getting them out to vote might be difficult."


Nighttime Rainbow Lights Up London's Trafalgar Square: VIDEO

Trafalgar Square night rainbow

Passersby in Trafalgar Square, London were treated to a minor light display from 5:30-8:30 on the evening of January 21st when a fountain spray was lit up with the "world's first 'night rainbow'". The display was there to promote the release of three new upcoming LGBT television series on Channel 4: Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu.

The trio are the creations of Russell T. Davies of Queer As Folk and Doctor Who fame, and like QAF the new trio of shows will center around the ups and downs of gay life.

You can watch the technicolor display, AFTER THE JUMP...

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London Transit Authorities Reject Sexy Poster For AIDS Play 'My Night With Reg'

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My Night With Reg is a classic AIDS-themed comedy production by Kevin Elyot that has been making the rounds since 1994. For the 20th anniversary a new poster was produced, featuring actor Lewis Reeve's hanging buns, partially obscured by David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album. But while the ad met London's advertising restriction standards, Transport for London - which runs the underground - deemed it too racy and banned it from being displayed. 

The Evening Standard got a statement from a TfL press officer, confirming "if it has been rejected it means that it doesn't meet the guidance that we have set." The Standard noted that Justin Bieber's photoshopped bulge evidently does meet the guidance of the TfL.

The play's revival began Saturday and officially opens this Friday at the Apollo Theater and is scheduled to run through April 11th.


Gay Couple Evicted From Uber Cab For 'Kissing And Cuddling': VIDEO

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A gay couple in London, England say they were thrown out of an Uber cab for kissing and cuddling, reports ITV.com.

O-UBER-facebookJordan Sloan claims that on New Year’s Day, the cab driver “pulled over and told us to get out.”

After evicting Sloan and his partner Corey Watts, the driver allegedly said "I take gays but they don't normally do this."

Toronto native Sloan said:

"I've never had any homophobic stuff happen to me so I was caught off guard. You don't expect it to happen in one of the world's biggest cities. I wanted to understand what he was thinking so I asked the driver: 'Would you do the same thing if it was a guy and a girl?'"

In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said:

“Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination either by our partner drivers or towards our partner drivers.

"We opened an investigation from the moment we learned of this unacceptable incident and have been in contact with the rider to extended our sincere apologies and get further information."

The couple were charged for their journey but later refunded.  

The cab driver has been suspended while the incident is under investigation.

Although Watts has received mostly messages of support on Twitter, some of the feedback - including Uber driver @PhDCab - was less than enlightened.

Last April, an Uber drive in Paris, France was fired for refusing to pick up two gay customers.

In July, Uber provided 8 lucky couples spontaneous weddings in San Francisco in celebration of the city's Pride event and marriage equality. 

Watch a video of Uber's San Francisco wedding celebration, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Gay Couple Evicted From Uber Cab For 'Kissing And Cuddling': VIDEO" »


'Pride' Director Calls Straightwashing Of DVD Cover 'Clumsy' But 'Valid' Marketing Decision

Pride

The other day we told you how the DVD cover for the film Pride was straightwashed prior to its US release on Dec. 23. 

A banner saying "Lesbians & Gays Support The Miners" is missing from a version of the original promotional image that appears on the back cover of the DVD, as shown above, and "gay and lesbian" has disappeared from the description of the film. 

WarchusOfficially, the straightwashing remains a mystery, but the film's director, Matthew Warchus (right), who spoke to Towleroad about the film back in October, is pretty sure it was "someone in the marketing department in the US." 

BBC News reports: 

"Changing the cover is kind of clumsy and a bit foolish," [Warchus] told the station's Phil Williams.

"But this is a film that is loved by people of all political persuasions and sexual orientations.

"I'm just keen for as many people who have yet to see the film to see it."

Warchus added that he "didn't want to preach to the converted" and wanted the film "to find a mainstream audience [and] broaden people's minds.

"I think someone in the marketing department in the US used their marketing judgement to try to remove any barrier to the widest possible audience," he went on.

"It's clumsily done but I understand it and it's a valid instinct," he continued, describing "the nature of marketing" as "over-simplification [and] reductive." 

BBC News also reached out to Ben Roberts, director of the BFI film fund, which backed Pride

"I'm not surprised that the US distributors have taken a decision to sell more copies by watering down the gay content. I'm not defending it, it's wrong and outmoded, but I'm not surprised," Roberts said. 

"It's an unfortunate commercial reality both here and in the US that distributors have to deal with and consider in getting films onto the shop shelf. LGBT material is largely marginalised outside of rare hits like Brokeback Mountain."

BuzzFeed looked into the Pride DVD straighwashing but reports that neither CBS Films nor Sony Home Entertainment, which are handling the film's distribution in the US, responded to its requests for comment:  

However, a source close to the situation told BuzzFeed News this was not an intentional move by CBS Films, which acquired the U.S. distribution rights for Pride in July 2014 and embraced the LGBT themes. The DVD distribution rights, however, were outsourced to Sony Home Entertainment, and the source told BuzzFeed News that CBS Films had no control over or knowledge of the alterations to the DVD boxes, and those at the studio are unclear as to who made the changes. The source said Sony and CBS Films are working together to find out who altered the language and the artwork, and why. Though the DVD isn’t being recalled, the source said the studio and Sony plan to ensure that anywhere the synopsis appears online, it is the original version and not the one on the U.S. DVD.

How hard can it be to figure out who changed the DVD cover and why? Also, did they really think no one would notice? 

Did Warchus sign off on it? And why are we hearing from Warchus and Roberts instead of those responsible for the decision so they can be held accountable? 

Perhaps the straightwashing shouldn't stop anyone from seeing Pride and taking in its important message, but to some extent the decision seems to undermine the very spirit of that message.

UPDATE: Read Warchus' full statement sent to Towleroad by CBS Films, and watch a trailer for the film, AFTER THE JUMP ...  

Continue reading "'Pride' Director Calls Straightwashing Of DVD Cover 'Clumsy' But 'Valid' Marketing Decision" »


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