Tourist in Bohemia a novel by Elizabeth McKellar

Readers’ comments:
pacy, racy and really engaging...
very funny but sad too...
original... a straight woman observes the gay scene... the fag-hag’s tale told with sharp-eyed sympathy

More information

Elizabeth McKellar’s novel Tourist in Bohemia tells the story of Eleanor, moving to London to get away from a family where, for a woman to “do well” means finding a successful husband. She enters the circle around the gay, glamorous and promiscuous Grenville. Uniquely, this is the London gay world of the 1980s seen from a straight woman’s point of view.

Grenville and Eleanor being male and female, gay and straight and from different ends of the north-south and class divide — their conversations and arguments (mostly about love, sex and gender) provide rich social comedy and comment.

There are visits to Eleanor’s family (upwardly mobile Tory voters) and to Grenville’s aristocratic family (snobbish and philistine) at his country estate. The tone of the novel darkens as the wild, hedonistic gay scene starts to unravel in the mid 1980s, due to the advent of AIDS. The confusion and terror of that period is powerfully evoked.

The book is written in short scenes, some strong on dialogue and comedy, some noisy with a party atmosphere and some quiet, interior and melancholy. Scenes in the permissive bohemian melting pot are counterbalanced with scenes in more classbound, straight settings.

In keeping with the period setting of 1980’s London the novel vividly conjures the sights, sounds, spaces and surfaces at this time of post-punk pop, posers, goths, boy bands and new romantics.

There is a subtle registering of the social changes brought about in Britain by the 1980s period: the redrawing of class distinctions, the effects of feminism, women moving into the workplace (for Eleanor, a career is of primary importance), the demise of 60’s idealism (which in some senses Grenville represents), and changes in sexual behaviour.

The story also reflects the boom in property ownership and the fashion for makeovers, the emergence of club culture, celebrity culture and perhaps what will affect the future most of all — the dawn of the digital revolution.

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