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This review is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.

SETTING THE AGENDA MARK LILLEY; Gay Men's Literature in the Twentieth Century (Macmillan) £10.99

The book is unashamedly directed toward the undergraduate market, presumably with those lucrative American gender and sexuality courses in mind. A certain simplicity of approach is therefore to be expected and one is not disappointed. It would be impossible to miss much in this book, as Lilly articulates his points in virtual lecture fashion. One is constantly reminded of salient points and told exactly what it is that the author intends doing next. For instance, Lilly tells his reader things like, 'here, I should like to examine one of the narrative poems to show how this approach might work in detail', and equally pedantically, 'when "dated" is used of novels in this way, what is being suggested is not simply that the social concerns and background have changed to so marked an extent that a story set in the past may appear quaint or lack immediacy of relevance. Rather, the suggestion is that the novel fails to transcend its particular time, that it lacks a universal dimension which will appeal to readers irrespective of the setting.' For the general, non-university reader this approach is bound to prove distracting; for any-one familiar at all with the subject it borders on the tedious.

However, on balance, this is a valuable contribution. Excusing the pedantry, it is written aggressively and with a thoughtful approach to the subject of gay men's literature. Lilly knows much about his subject. He has a sensitive eye for nuance. Occasionally he hits the nail on ...


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