This is a really quick read, though I confess I ended up skimming a bit. There’s a lot of sex scenes and a lot of drama: if it weren’t a popular early gay story it wouldn’t mean very much, I think. But it was one of the earliest novels to feature gay characters who struggle with their identity and have a happy ending, and I was surprised at how quickly it got to that, too. Our sympathies are unequivocally with Peter and his desire for commitment, his passionate love for Charlie; while Charlie’s struggles are treated with some understanding, it’s not as though the narrative treats him as “in the right” for wanting to hide the relationship. In that sense, it’s a celebration of queerness, of love (and yeah, sex) between two men, from a time when that was hard to find. No wonder it was popular.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of unpleasantness here — domestic violence, Charlie wanting to hurt various women and sometimes Peter, racism, homophobia from a few characters, internalised homophobia on Charlie’s part, etc. No matter how good it was for gay people to read a passionate love story for them at the time, there’s a lot that’s problematic and off-putting.
And, frankly, for me the writing wasn’t that good. Situations were contrived, there was a lot of repetition, and I didn’t really believe in the sudden intensity of feeling from Peter — Charlie’s more grudging love was a little easier to believe in, but even so, they went into it at an amazing pace.
Still, it’s kind of fun in a trashy way, and it is nice to have that happy end.