Maybe this all sounds shocking. All I can say is that there were boys younger than me down the coal mines every day of their lives, and boys with bleeding limbs forced up chimney flues, with brine rubbed in their wounds to harden their flesh. That's true immorality; so save your pity and revulsion for that.London in the final quarter of the nineteenth century, where the weMaybe this all sounds shocking. All I can say is that there were boys younger than me down the coal mines every day of their lives, and boys with bleeding limbs forced up chimney flues, with brine rubbed in their wounds to harden their flesh. That's true immorality; so save your pity and revulsion for that.London in the final quarter of the nineteenth century, where the wealth and elegance of the few lies heavily on top of the squalor of the many. In its busy West End streets, Willie Smith soon learns to use his youth and beauty as a means to escape the grinding poverty of his East End background, as he discovers the real world that lies hidden beneath the veneer of Victorian respectability....
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Street Lavender Reviews
This is sort of like if Sarah Waters wrote the gay male version of "Pretty Baby." That being said, Sarah Waters, you've got some 'splainin' to do. This novel is virtually "Tipping The Velvet" with a cheeky, young male prostitute. There is so much comparable to it, that it boggles my mind. Not to say I don't love the HAIL out of 'Tipping The Velvet', but really Ms. Waters...I actually am feeling conflicted about your appropriation of source material...I found out about this book from reading an interview with Sarah Waters, who name-checked it as an inspiration to her. So naturally, I read it. WELL...I'm not sure it's a good idea that she mentioned being so inspired by it because...um...it's kind of the same book :/ Except this one was written in 1986. There's enough to make them different...yettttt...not enough (especially a big one...like the PLOT). I don't wish to speak negatively of an author I adore, but I actually feel quite bothered by how much of this book seems to have been directly sourced for 'Tipping The Velvet'. I'm glad that there's a wee difference between the two for them to read as separate, albeit bookends, of the queer experience in Victorian/Edwardian England. I will try to get over this uncomfortable feeling by ending this with "I love this book as much as I love 'Tipping The Velvet' and I understand why Sarah Waters felt the need to write a VERY similar story examining the queer female perspective...I just wish the plot was a little less APPROPRIATED. +++SPOILER ALERT++++A major struggle I had with this novel was the main character's rape of his younger cousin. I loved Willie up until this moment, and it took me a good chunk of the rest of the book to not feel highly conflicted about this character. I felt it fundamentally out-of-character (as his character, while not a Mary Stu *fan fiction term that I learned from an ardent fan fiction writer/reader*), is at his core a deeply humane person. Yes, people can be flawed and do horrible things, but I track this problem back to the author and his handling of this subject matter. That part made me lose faith in the main character, which though the main character is meant to have certain flaws that flesh him out, is a big problem. Once you lose faith in the main character as a reader, the reading experience is ultimately effected. There's a lot I'd like to say here, and that could really turn into a dissertation. However, I'll end it by summing up that I really enjoyed this novel, I really wish that Chris Hunt was better known and still actively writing, I love you Sarah Waters, but damn guhhhhrrrrllll...I'm definitely adding this to my Queer Lit Cannon of Awesome. Over and out.*mic drop*
What fun! Why is this book out of print? It traveled to me all the way from the UK to Tokyo... wow!It's as good as the cover is bad. The style feels as if you were running, holding the protagonist's hand – light, bright, doesn't let you stop, makes you forget (or not care about) certain things... great. And it's obviously been well-researched, and the voice and period details are authentic and solid. Also, I have a soft Spot for random Capitalization of certain Words, mostly Nouns but sometimes Adjectives, to show the significance and severity of Things. I loved it.That being said, there was one event that I felt was too readily glossed over and come to terms with – the readers would know, it's pretty sinister – and other things... I don't think it was all that unrealistic, but come on, didn't Willie have any unpleasant experiences, was everyone so gentle and accepting? I'm not saying I'm disappointed by the overall lack of misery in his life, far from it, but why would everyone love and protect and befriend him at the drop of a hat? Caroline, Bob or whatever his name was, all the gents... come on, no one would be jealous or spiteful or callous or brutal? And the fact that he was SO BEAUTIFUL. Eh. I've had it with protagonists who are Beautiful.So, the ending and the whole business with Joseph... a bit abrupt and idealistic to me. Nice, but too nice. Saccharine sweet. Same with Algy. I wanted Willie to hit him with a chair.There are a lot of similarities with "Tipping the Velvet", and I'm not sure which I like more. Sarah Waters is more gritty and unflinching, but her story drags a bit. "Street Lavender" is perfect pace-wise, length-wise, and very good tone-wise. All in all, more enjoyable, and the social commentary is here, even if slightly heavy-handed.Want to read more of this author.
William (Willie) Smith is the second son of a now single mother and along with his older brother the family is sinking further into poverty living in Shoreditch. His mother, from a respectable middle class family married beneath herself and was consequently disowned. Not yet ten years old Willie is pale and slender with big blue eyes, his remarkably beautiful face framed with shoulder length fiery auburn hair; quite different from Charley, his strong, muscular brother four years his senior. Charley cares for Willie and does his best to protect him, he also loves him unselfconsciously, and shows Willie the pleasures of physical love, entering his young brother much to Willies delight. Such, and a lot more including a little prostitution, is Willies early life, but that is just the beginning, for he will over the next ten years experience greater deprivations interspersed with periods of good fortune.On his mothers death he is take in by his aunt's family and enjoys real comfort, only to be followed by a period in a remand home, and then back to selling his body, something at which he is very good, and something which he actually enjoys. He is in demand and favoured by even by the occasional lord, but associating with the privileged only increases his awareness of his lowly beginnings and the inequality of Victorian life that leaves so many in poverty. His social conscience is increasingly pricked and he wants to help the deprived, and he often thinks of the tall handsome visiting speaker he heard in church during his stay with his aunt's family, Mr Pearson, who was raising funds for his orphaned boys' home, a man for whom he had great respect; could Willie ever do something similar to Mr Pearson?That is but a brief outline, there is so much more to Willie's adventures, his highs and lows, the numerous friends he makes along the way, his periods of desperation and periods of living in luxury, his many loves including a couple of lords, and his desire to find his one true love. As Willie relates his tale one very quickly comes to adore him and feel for his plight. Throughout one feels that he will eventually achieve his aim or at least a level of satisfaction, but if and whatever that is we must wait for the closing pages to discover. Street Lavender is one of those rare books that one wishes would never end, but while this is far from short novel that end arrives all too quickly; a very fulfilling read yet one still wants to spend more time in the company of Willie.
This is the only book that i can point to and say: i was a different person before i read this. It's probably not for everyone: it's a fantastic impression of Victorian prose, which means it rambles and meanders; it's a re-hash of the "it's not okay to be gay, but i have to survive somehow" situation that is becoming less relevant to many modern readers; and it's deeply emotional, so if your heart is as shriveled with cynicism as mine was, you might be rolling your eyes instead of blinking away tears. But when i say i was a different person before i read this, i mean i was a worse person. I haven't been able to find or contact the author, but i owe them a deep, heart-felt thank you for the impact this touching bildungsroman had on me.P.S. This is the best example of "don't judge a book by its cover." I'm sure this was a great cover in the eighties, but now it's kind of a misleading indicator of quality.
One of my favorite books of all time that I have read 3 times already. This book is a funny, touching jaunt through Victorian London through a young boy's eyes as he grows up. I read it at first because I heard it was the inspiration for Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet and even though there are a lot of similarities in terms of the way the story is structured, Willy Smith is a very different character from Nan King and the bawdy scenes of London make me feel like I experienced them myself which, I think, is why I come back to it again and again.
Chris Hunt specialised in historical gay novels. Considering that the genre was particularly niche in the 80s you would wonder how he made any money at it. He took a tremendous amount of care with historical accuracy (he had an academic background in post Renaissance literature). If you have any background in Dickensian London then you will know just how accurate and detailed his writing is. Molly houses, as brothels for males were known as at the time, flourished but played second fiddle to the main brothels. No man wanted to be seen going into them so they were usually down side streets. Pickups were initiated from Hansom cabs so the men couldn't be seen.This is the world our hero Willie moves in. The book is quite all encompassing as it starts in the poorer slums (there was a gradation of slums believe it or not) and moves to a middle class house, into a reformatory (which is written from documentary evidence of the time) and then back to the streets Willie grew up in where he has to sell himself to stay alive.He then gets taken on by rather cultured painters who need a striking looking model. Willie has found all his life that his good looks and striking auburn hair make him stand out in a crowd. That situation doesn't work out so well and he ends up back on the streets. He gets in with a street gang of boys he was in reformatory with but has too much between his ears to stay with them too long. In order to pay off a debt he has to sell himself again in one of the Molly houses. Eventually he is rescued from an unlikely source.The novel is quite long and detailed with quite a range of well developed characters from the Molly house owners (all women) to well meaning doctors engaged in research to the Middle class men who are conscious of their place in respectable London society. They have little pity or care for the huddled masses of children running the streets of London in the 1880s. If you read any books about Dickens you will know why he spent so much of his time and talent trying to bring about reform in this area. 'Spitalfields Nippers' is a collection of photographs from this period taken in the same area the book is set although it has only been released. It puts things in context and many of the photographs could have been Willie and his friends. You will come out of the book a different person than you went in and be a lot more informed on a much hidden and poorly researched aspect of gay life. Most of it of course was never written down for obvious reasons. I read this originally in 1992 and have re read it on and off since then. Couldn't recommend it highly enough.PS There are no sex scenes in the book. The Molly house and street scenes are all written in the best possible taste but not so cryptic that you are in Mills and Boon territory!
This has been sitting on my shelves for a long time, and I unfortunately can't recall what prompted me to buy it in the first place. But I am glad that I did, as it's a great read. In some ways it's a male version of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, an evocative tale of a working-class child trying to survive on their talents. In this case, the protagonist Willie Smith also has to find his place in society when "rescued" from the East End by his uncle and taken into his soft and clean but repressive middle-class home.spoilers below!>>>>>>>>>>>>This repression doesn't suit Willie and before long a violent eruption of his feelings sends him to a brutal reform school and from there to a varied life of prostitution and modelling before he finds redemption and an outlet for his love and affection.
Read this years ago and loved it. Maybe it's time to re-read it. My personal favourite of Chris Hunt's books.