The Boy I Love
The protagonist of this novel set in the aftermath of WW1, Paul Harris, has returned from the war, but his inner problems have only been increased by the experience. He marries his dead brother’s girlfriend, partly to save her from shame because she is pregnant and partly in an attempt to be “normal”. Paul is gay, and this is not easy in the 1920s, particularly as homosexuality is of course still illegal: “the love that dare not speak its name”.
Paul has been having an affair with a teacher, Adam, who finds Paul a job teaching at the same school. Paul is, however, not cut out for this job, and the children take advantage of his perceived weaknesses. The subplot about the job serves to illustrate key themes of the novel: bullying in its various forms, the effect upon the victims, and also the problem faced by many of the returning soldiers of how to find a place in the world, damaged as they have been, mentally and/or physically by their experiences. The sex can be quite graphic at times, so be warned if this is something that offends you.
This novel has won prizes, and it is compelling in many ways. It is character- and idea-driven rather than being action-packed, and the characters are particularly vivid and real. Although perhaps not the most loveable or nicest of people, they certainly remain in the mind after the book is closed as being fully fleshed and human.