The swinging 60s in the UK? - The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Pirate Radio, Mary Quant, bell-bottoms, The Avengers, Alfred Hitchcock, hippies, Twiggy, Afros; all sounds familiar, right? Gay in the 60s in the UK? – illegal, sexual deviant, arrest, imprisonment, behavioural therapy, aversion therapy, electric shock treatment, blackmail, hormone treatment, running scared, living a lie; still sounds familiar?
Junction X is set in 1962 in the UK and if you were gay that was your future, or you made sure you just didn’t get caught. Eddie is married to Valerie and outwardly they are the typical, 60s suburban family with two kids. Inwardly their sex-life is practically non-existent and when it does happen it’s a thing to be got over with rather than enjoyed and celebrated. This was the fate of many gay men at this time locked into loveless marriages out of fear of the alternatives. Being socially conditioned into believing that they were perverse in some way by harbouring feelings for other men. This was a time that if you weren't married by a certain age then people would start asking the awkward questions and start talking behind your back."Looking back at what I thought was nothing more than a mild deception, I see that I was attempting to be the man she wanted me to be....attempting to fit someone else’s mould, even back then. I suppose it’s because people don’t look for aberration where there is an established routine."
Ed and Valerie's former neighbours Claire and Phil have moved away and new neighbours arrive. Eddie Discovers his latent gay tendencies due to Phil who is a little bit of a sexual opportunist in my opinion. They basically use each other for sexual favours that they obviously can't get from their wives, but Phil is obviously the one that can separate the one from the other, much easier than Ed.
When the new neighbours arrive with their seventeen year old son Alex then Ed's world is thrown for a loop and he finds himself slipping deeper into a world full of lies and deceit in order to keep the happy family pretense going at least outwardly and covering up his affair with Alex."For there wasn’t a day after this when I wasn’t lying to someone. Perhaps because it was I’d stopped lying to myself".
There is definitely no HEA to the end of this story, it's a bittersweet and slightly melancholic tale of a love with no possible future. True to the times of what being gay, even if the word existed in its present form then, meant in 1962. An attraction and affair that can only be doomed before it starts. No gay man at this time would have been left with any other choice and that's what makes this story even more tragic. Although Alex was only seventeen at the time and a few months away from his 18th birthday, in 1962 it was a no go anyway, despite the age.
The writing is beautifully done and you feel the internal struggle going on in Ed, fighting with his feelings of emotion and attraction against his social conditioning of knowing that this is not allowed and would never be accepted. Love will out and eventually it does, but Alex plays a key role in winning Ed over with his exuberance and confidence. I thought this was interesting seeing Alex, although younger, was the one who was more open, sure of himself and knew exactly what he wanted after recognising what he saw in Ed was just not his imagination.
There were a couple of things where I thought whether or not this could really have been. Could a seventeen year old in 1962 really be so forward, sexually self-assure, possibly a virgin, but knowing more exactly what he wants than a 33 year old man? But the narrative art of the story kept these questions at bay, making Alex and Ed totally believable as characters. I loved the way Phil and Ed called their quickies "episodes." It made it seem all so detached and purely physical as it probably was, at least for Phil anyway. They would very often have an episode in a compartment on the train commuting to work. However, I did find myself asking about the risk of being caught, it's something I wouldn't really consider attempting today, let alone in 1962 on a busy commuter train; old style trains with compartments or not. I couldn't really imagine that they could be that alone and take that risk. However, no risk, no fun!
Valerie, Ed's wife, also plays a central role in this story, trapped in a marriage that is less from satisfying it must have been just as bitter and disappointing for her too. She may come across as someone who is cold and unaffectionate, but then she has a husband who can't really love her like she really should be loved. Rough deal if you ask me.
This book can only be described as a touching, intricate and beautiful story. Deftly written using Ed as the narrator. You read Ed's innermost thoughts, feel his longing and suffer his anguish, being able to sense the excruciating internal conflict in him up to the very end where there is only one way out."Elation is a bubble that lasts for tiny tiny moments but leaves something of its memory in scents and sounds so that later, when you need that boost, you can close your eyes and remember happiness."
The Sexual Offences Bill passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons on 4th of July 1967. It received the Royal Assent on 21st of July 1967. Thus lifting the illegality of gay sex between consenting males. This left me sad thinking about how different it could have been for these two guys were they in the here and now. Although this work is fiction how many men must have gone through a similar ordeal in those times. This book has left me reflecting how lucky we are today and how much more still needs to be done throughout the world in raising awareness. Oh, and have the tissues ready for the end of the book, you might need them.