Review: The Boy I Love by Marion Husband

A tangled web of love and betrayal develops when war hero Paul returns from the trenches. He finds himself torn between desire and duty, his lover Adam awaits but so too does Margot, the pregnant fiancée of his dead brother. Set in a time when homosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name, Paul has to decide where his loyalty and his heart lie.

Review by Erastes

I devoured this book. It was like comfort food. English to the core and had (for me) the same effect as scoffing steak and kidney pudding. I wallowed.

It’s based just after the First World War and Paul has returned home after 18 months in a mental hospital due to a severe case of shellshock. His brother, whom he and everyone else adored, has been killed – ironically after the armistice -in a car crash. Paul’s “queer”, and is discreetly continuing a relationship with Adam that he had started before the war. When his brother’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant by Robbie, Paul has some choices to make. It’s further complicated by Pat, a man damaged by his past, who was Paul’s sergeant and who has, or so he thinks, an unrequited crush on Paul.

What I loved about this was the frank and bleak look at men returning from the trenches. None of them are whole, Paul’s eye was “dug out by a rusty spoon” and he still wakes up screaming with shellshock, Mick (Pat’s brother) has lost his legs, Adam was “unfit for service”, and most families in the town have lost someone, but still – it’s a very English novel, with the world moving on, people drinking tea and getting quietly on with their lives.  The country is changing, women are working, women are smoking, women are going out when pregnant!  (Another nice touch about this book is that there are women characters who resonate and aren’t just there for decoration or to be The Bitch.)

The author is deft and skilful in the way the story unfolds – which is told partly in flashback. There’s a mystery at the heart of the book too; we are told that something happened to Paul in the trenches (other than the normal!); something involving a man called Jenkins and it takes the book to unravel what happens whilst still coping with about six different plotlines. Impressive.

If I have one tiny quibble, I’d say that it didn’t, to my mind, get deep enough into the character’s points of view, I think Pat was the character who’s head we were deepest into, and with such dark subjects – and with such choices to be made I would have like to have known more of what people were thinking.   Perhaps it should have been longer to try and encompass this, perhaps it was a tiny bit ambitious for a first novel.  That being said, even without a deeper POV, the characters are very memorable and I was rooting for all of them even though I knew that it couldn’t ALL work out in a pat fashion.

Author’s website

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4 Responses

  1. This just came out over here on e-book platform and it has to be the best gay historical I have ever read. Her second book is also available and I hope her others are available soon – it was a brilliant job, and while I am sorry the sequel doesn’t seem to be contemporaneous to “Boy I love” I’ll take whatever I can get from this author. Erastes, if you are in contact with this author please let her know there is an audience on this side of the pond and keep them coming!

  2. I agree, it’s utterly brilliant. We do email from time to time, so I’ll let her know – her books definitely need more attention.

  3. […] By way of context, I was rummaging around on the Amazon gay and lesbian best seller list and came across The Boy I Love, also by Husband. Having never heard of it, I did a little research and discovered the excellent review of it at this site (you can read it here). […]

  4. i hardly ever read gay fiction, but I loved this book, which only came my way after my book club chose it for next month’s meeting. I found it both extremely erotic and harrowing – and the evocation of the atmosphere of a provincial english town after WW1 was brilliantly convincing. I was fascinated by the central character whose ultimate motives and wishes remain no less interesting for being kept somehow out of range. I’ve just come back from the north-east of England – the author’s home turf – and it intrigues me that someone from that oh-so-macho tough-guy world has been able to put a book like this together.

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