It draws heavily on library and archive research. The author Jay Carmichael, a gay man, cites Denis Altman’s work and mine (in my capacity as a homosexual historian) at the end. The novel features photographs taken from the State Library of Victoria’s and Australian Queer Archives collections.
Marlo concerns central character Christopher’s sexual coming-of-age, after moving to Melbourne as a young adult from the small country town of Marlo in East Gippsland. The novel explores how same-sex-attracted men lived their lives during the repressive period following the end of the second world war.
Christopher moves to Melbourne in 1950, where he gets a job as an auto mechanic. He shares a home with his friend, Kings from Marlo and their girlfriend. Christopher meets Morgan during a picnic at the Botanic Garden. Later in the book, we learn that Morgan is an Aboriginal Australian living in white society and has a Certificate of exemption from the Board for the Protection of Aborigines of New South Wales.
Christopher and Morgan are struggling with what seems to be Christopher’s self-loathing and his desire for acceptance.
Camp men in Melbourne, 1950s
Gay liberation popularized the term “gay”, which is now used to describe homosexual men. The Communist threat made their lives more difficult.
Marlo’s most convincing scenes are when it deals with the social life available to campmen in 1950s Melbourne and the men’s need for discretion to be able to pass until they feel comfortable with who they are talking to.
Women in tailored suits, A man in a ball gown. […] Each different. Together, they formed a whole in this cafe. They were distinct and complete. Both were underground, outlawed and outcast.
The tensions that Christopher feels with his sister Iris, his boyfriend Morgan and their relationship is intriguing.
Iris could have said that I felt the same connection with Morgan as I did with her […], but it was her wedding day; this could all wait until a more suitable time. “Then again, I wasn’t sure if there would ever be a better moment”.
Iris was Christopher’s emotional anchor before he met Morgan. She didn’t know about his sexuality. Morgan is reluctant to attend Iris and Christopher’s wedding, but Christopher insists.
Morgan runs when they reach Christopher’s home. Iris shuns him and refuses to come to the wedding. The novel introduces but does not deal fully with Christopher’s love for Morgan, replacing his dependency on Iris.
Christopher, the protagonist of the novel, moves from Marlo to Melbourne. State Library Victoria/Rose Stereograph Co., Author provided
Repressive society and repressed self
Jay Carmichael’s prose can be both inspired and elegiac.
We would then go to sleep, and in the morning, we would wake up before the world had a chance to clear its eyes.
As the relationship between Christopher and Morgan develops, Christopher will sometimes examine Morgan’s body to see if there is any evidence that Morgan has self-harmed.
I examined his arms in the shower for any marks or scars that he had caused himself […]. He didn’t have any, but I knew he was carrying them inside.
Morgan’s arms and genitals are not of interest to him.
Christopher’s continued use of the term “things”, even as a young man, when he was ruminating about his developing physical relationship with Morgan in his 20s is also odd. The first time readers saw his “things” was when his childhood friend Kings showed them to him.
Many men admitted to being cautious in their social/sexual relationships in order to avoid attracting the attention of a href= “https://theconversation.com/9-in-10-lgbtq-students-say-they-hear-homophobic-language-at-school-and-1-in-3-hear-it-almost-every-day-160356”>homophobes/a>. Others said they welcomed the police raiding Some men admitted to being cautious in their sexual and social relationships so as not to attract the attention of homosexuals. Others welcomed the police raiding parties for the “mystique”.
Read more: Faggots, punks, and prostitutes: the evolving language of gay men
Occasional jarring notes occurred when other present-day features intruded in this novel set in the 1950s – when, for example, picnickers in the Botanic Gardens had “bubbly” with lunch. (I am not a cultural historian but suspect that, if drunk in Melbourne in the 1950s, champagne was the preserve of a small elite.) The scene seems more like a present-day invention than a reflection of the past.
My credibility as a reader has been tested when Christopher wore a “duvet”, a blanket over his legs, and opened a bottle “merlot” at the end of a day’s work in an auto mechanic’s garage.
These minor factual errors may not seem significant, but they can cause readers to question the author’s historical portrayals.