First Thursday of each month = Velvet Page Club

As the title says, every first Thursday of the month is the date for the meeting of the Velvet Page Club – an LGBT reading group that meets on the first floor of Waterstones in Piccadilly (London) at 7pm. I first attended about a year ago and have been intermittently since. Indeed last night was my first meeting for several months. It’s a nice, friendly group with some old regulars and a sprinkling of new people now and then. Normally not more than a dozen people, we gather in comfy seats on the shop floor to discuss the book we agreed for the previous month and the conversation often wanders to various other things. Organised by Chris, who works there, you can get a coffee from the shop cafe and it is very funny to have a conversation in a bookshop that is normally respectfully quiet. Indeed quite amusing to think what some of the customers around us might think when we discuss our books which are often blatantly queer as well as sometimes quite ‘cutting edge’.

Last night our discussions centred on Paul Bailey’s 2014 novel ‘The Prince’s Boy’. He is a very famous author with some real classics under his belt such as Gabriel’s Lament. But I recently read one of this early books (Trespasses, 1970) and found it quite hard going. So it was pleasing that this one was a much easier and more enjoyable read. Indeed, it is his latest. It is quite a slim volume but feels to me much more substantial than it appears which is a good thing. Indeed it does feel like a nineteenth century novel in a good way – detailed and authoritative but without being overwhelming and tedious. There are lots of events that, as was pointed out at our meeting, could have been fleshed out more to make a bigger book. images (5)However I did not feel short-changed and I think life is often about strange little one-off events. General group feeling was positive though at least one member was not impressed and felt it a bit too ‘Mills and Boon’! Interesting that I found a description of him online as ‘an under-acknowledged master of telling a large story through small details’.

The plot is the strange life story of a young Roumanian before WW2 who meets the man of his dreams in Paris – a fellow countryman but about twenty years older and a prostitute. It is a story of being gay in the inter-war period and a reflection on gay life in France and Roumania during those times. Indeed, ultimately it is the story of the young Roumanian though in so many ways it is also the story of his lover. One wonders what stories and experiences Paul Bailey based this on; probably not his own but ones that were relayed to him by someone else (a close friend perhaps)? I can’t believe this is pure fiction without some truth to it and I would be disappointed if that were not the case. Indeed a question came up last night as to if the Roumanian poet who features in the book, George Vaduva, is a real historical person? I can’t find him on Wikipedia which must mean he is fictional. Wiki has got a section on Paul Bailey and turns out Roumanians often come up in his writing plus he is now nearly 80 but still pushing out good writing.

Our next meeting is 7pm on Thursday 2nd July and I am determined to be there. The book we will be reading is ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ by Jandy Nelson. A ‘young adult novel’ which is a genre that has really established itself on its own merits in the last couple of decades. And then in August we will talking about ‘The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys’ by Jeremy Reed which Chris was completely raving about – he has nearly missed his tube stop twice because he has been so involved in the book. Do feel free to come and join us, don’t be shy!

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