One great way to celebrate Pride month if you’re an introvert is by reading a book. I initially picked The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore for purely aesthetic reasons. Its racy pink cover seemed appropriate for the time of year. I don’t normally like historical fiction very much – I don’t know why, it’s just one of my blind spots – but this seemed like a good time to leave my usual comfort zone.
The narrative is simple: brothers Benjamin and Edgar set out on a Grand Tour to complete their meticulous education. Their mother has been preparing them for this important moment for years. Finally, they will make those oh-so-important connections and kick off a life of wealth and high society.
As such things are wont to go, the trip teaches the two brothers much about life, but not necessarily in the way their mother intended. See, both men have grown up sheltered to the point that they have retained an innocent boy-like quality. The reality of the big bad world comes, obviously, as a big of a shock.
Things take an even more fevered turn when Benjamin meets the Mr Lavelle who gives the book its title. Lavelle opposes everything Benjamin stands for: class, good taste, and politeness. To say the two fall in love is not quite accurate. Although they certainly do, the term “intoxication” from the title is perhaps a better description.
I expected a raucous novel set in the wicked world of the upper-class eighteenth century. At times the story is indeed hilarious to the point of being satirical. But without giving too much of the plot away – it relies on sudden twists and turns – the novel is also shocking and at times even heartbreaking. Don’t read this book if you’re looking for a happy-go-lucky gay story, is all I’ll say.
And of course, especially reading this book during Pride month, I couldn’t help but think about its implications. For even though the novel is set several centuries in the past, homosexuality was illegal in the UK until only a few decades ago. And one only needs to read the news to know that LGBTQ+ rights remain under attack, not just in countries far far away, but in the UK as well.
It’s a sobering message to end on but it’s one that remains important. While it’s encouraging to read a romantic novel and consider that some of the homophobia Benjamin is subjected to is no longer socially acceptable, the novel is a warning that no freedoms should be taken for granted. Benjamin eventually finds some sort of happiness but pays a huge price for it. One can only hope that at some point in the future such stories will truly become a thing of the past.