Anglophone gay male fiction has entered an uncannily quiet period. No longer the darling of the big publishing houses, especially when compared to lesbian- and trans-related fiction, it sometimes seems to depend on film adaptations to get much attention.
Yet trends always brook exceptions. Publishers took part in a fierce six-way bidding war for Tomasz Jedrowski’s first novel, Swimming in the Dark, written in English by an author born in Germany to Polish parents who studied at Cambridge and now resides in France. The high expectations are met: this is a remarkable, beautiful tale, not least noteworthy for its structural concord, faultless historical detail and assuredly Conradian idiolect: ‘The previous night floated on the surface of my mind like a buoy: the rain on the roof, the weight of your head on my shoulder. I tried to shake it off.’
Its narrator, Ludwik, recollects from his exile in ‘the dreadful safety of America’ an adolescent love affair that took place in Poland in the turbulent 1980s, when communism was experiencing its death throes. Meeting Janusz feels like destiny for Ludwik. We might fairly expect any boy called Janusz