What we thought: Holding the Man was first published in 1995, a year after the author’s death. It was released as a reasonably good film in 2016, reviving some interest in the book.
I strongly recommend that you read the book first. It is a beautiful love story, simply told with a refreshing directness and honesty. It is both heart breaking and very funny.
Timothy Conigrave charts his lifelong love affair with John Caleo. He starts in the mid-1970s, when they first meet at an all boys Catholic school in Melbourne, Australia. Timothy loves literature and performing in the school play. John is the captain of the football team.
The pair of them were clearly ahead of their time. Homosexuality remained illegal in Melbourne until 1981. In some parts of Australia it was illegal until 1990. Yet the two teenagers declare their love for each other openly while still at school. Their honesty brings them into trouble with the school and with John’s parents. And yet they refuse to comply with the conventions of the time and hide their relationship.
When they leave school, Timothy goes away to drama school and John remains in Melbourne. Timothy has many encounters with other men, but eventually returns home and is reunited with John. They then share a happy and loving life together until John’s untimely death from AIDS in 1992.
This could be the story of any couple, gay or straight. They have highs and they have lows. From being young, teenage lovers, their relationship is tested and strengthens over the years. When they are both diagnosed as HIV-positive, the ultimate test of their relationship begins. The result is a deepening love of great beauty and tenderness.
Conigrave’s writing style is simple and clear. He is very open about his weaknesses and his guilt about his lack of fidelity to John. It feels like we are hearing John’s voice represented accurately in the story, even though he is not there to confirm the events.
I urge you to read this book. It is emotionally satisfying and tells of a world of intolerance that is still very recent history.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Shameless by Paul Burston
Avoid if you don’t like: Occasional explicit sex description
Ideal accompaniments: A decent Australian beer
Genre: Romance, LGBTQ
Available on Amazon