Review: Matt Houlbrook, Queer London
History Today‘s March 2006 issue features a review of Matt Houlbrook’s Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957, winner of its Longman-History Today Book of the Year 2006 award. Julian Jackson praised the book: "Superb…. This is scholarly history, but it is also the best kind of engaged history. Houlbrook clearly feels something was lost with the ‘respectable’ homosexuality of the 1950s although he is too good a historian to tell any black-and-white story. He sees the evolution he describes as ‘simultaneously liberating and exclusionary.’ If for some men the emergence of more private spaces after 1945 was ‘unequivocally affirmative, offering them opportunities to socialize in a safe, respectable and semi-private place,’ this process made things harder for those who wished—or were forced—to remain more visible. This is a book, finally, as much about London as about sexuality, demonstrating with empathy and subtlety both how sexuality was played out in the city and how it was shaped by it."
History Today editor Peter Furtado calls the book "[An] example of modern ‘queer history’ is an account of how gay people lived in London, which everyone, gay or straight, can relate to. Not written (as it might have been) as a tale of suffering, it is a lucid, sane and jargon-free account of how gay people negotiated space for themselves, physically, socially and emotionally, and draws on police records, memoirs, letters and newspaper exposés, as well as the first queer guidebook ever written. It deals with issues of policing, housing, geography, identity and politics faced by gay men in this period. It is also a book that will make anyone who reads it look at London and its public spaces through new eyes."
Read an excerpt.