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Fellow feelingLove in a Dark TimeClm ToibnPicador 1699 pp279In 1993 Clm Toibn was asked by an editor of the London Review of Books to write personally and polemically about his sexuality In his Introduction to this book Toibn describes the meeting as if it were a scene from an espionage thriller he walked quickly past me and across the room to the window Would this spy come in from the cold He wouldnt He couldnt since part of him remained uneasy timid and melancholy about this issueLove in a Dark Time is not the outpouring or manifesto that the LRB might have had in mind Instead its a collection of reviews and essays about gay writers artists and public figures many of which did appear in the pages of the LRB the magazine conducted a sort of campaign of attrition sending out a steady stream of gay-themed booksWriting these pieces helped Toibn come to terms with things When he does strike a personal note in these pages its clear that he is still armoured against disclosure Writing about his boyhood discovery that two young men who lived together in his home town of Enniscorthy had been packed off to jail and ruined he declares It was clear to me as I grew into my teens that being gay in this country would require care and attentionThis is manifestly a fabricated tone and even a fabricated vocabulary - gay would hardly have been the standard term at the time even in a more metropolitan place If Clm Toibn had been capable of such dry bravado in the late Sixties how could there be enough unease timidity and melancholy left over to inhibit his self-expression a quarter of a century laterVery few books of essays are planned as wholes More often theyre what the experts on the Antiques Roadshow speaking of say Cromwell chairs that only loosely match a dining-table refer to as a harlequin set
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