Fiction – paperback; Text Classics; 319 pages; 2013.
Most people know Sumner Locke Elliott for his wonderful novel Careful, He Might Hear You, which won the Miles Franklin Literary Award that same year (and which was also adapted for television in the early 1980s), about a custody battle for a young boy in 1930s Sydney. That was a thinly veiled memoir of Locke Elliott’s own life, orphaned at a young age and raised by aunts.
Fairyland was his 11th (and last) novel. First published in 1990, it is also a thinly veiled memoir. For much of his life (he died in 1991), Locke Elliott hid his homosexuality. The book explores what it is like to grow up in the 1930s and 40s hiding your real self from the world.
It is, by turns, a heart-rending, intimate and harrowing portrayal of one man’s search for love in an atmosphere plagued by the fear of condemnation, violence, prosecution and imprisonment.
From cradle to grave
The book charts Seaton Daly’s life from a young boy in Sydney to a successful writer of radio plays and theatre productions in New York.
It begins (and ends) in dramatic fashion with Seaton’s premature death, before circling back to his childhood. It then moves forward through his teenage years, his carefree (if troubled) twenties, including his stint in the Army during World War Two, and then his immigration to the States, which he believed to be the Promised Land.
It is, essentially, a bildungsroman of a gay man living at a time when homosexuality was not only considered morally wrong, it was against the law.
An engaging story
Told in the third person in a forthright, engaging style, Fairyland is one of those books that is a delight to read despite the repressive setting.
There are scenes of quiet joy, little moments when you realise that Seaton is making his way in the world, forging a successful career for himself and occasionally finding romantic encounters in the unlikeliest of places. But this is often underpinned by the knowledge that he is unable to truly express himself, forever on guard in case the wrong person discovers his secret, for which there will be dire consequences.
In one particularly heartbreaking scene the straight man with whom he’s fallen in love admits that he knows about Seaton’s “inclinations” but cannot reciprocate his feelings. In another scene, his female friend advises him to “be a good sport about it, darling, it’s all you can be and you might as well start getting used to it, you’re going to have to be a good sport about it for the rest of your life”.
There are failed love affairs (with men and women) and intriguing friendships, occasional scenes of drunkenness and bad behaviour, but Seaton is always honourable and principled in his relationships with others. In one furious outburst, he admonishes an ex-lover for his abominable behaviour towards a young woman:
All my life I’ve hung on to one important compensation for what I am. I’ve just loved and not expected love back because I wanted just to love and that’s saved me and made up for what people call the sin of it.
Fairyland is an elegantly written tale about living in an intolerant society; it’s about the compromises one has to make to fit in; and is embued with a deep sense of sadness for what might have been.
For another review of this book, please see Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers.
This is my 3rd book for #20booksofsummer. I bought it immediately after I read Careful, He Might Hear You last year, because I loved that book so much and was keen to read more by this author. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Highly recommended.