Top 10 Best Gay Novels Past and Present

Sometimes it seems the world and his wife reads m/m these days. Certainly, the genre is becoming increasingly popular with a not-so-gay demographic. M/M has its roots in slash fanfiction (think Kirk/Spock or Holmes/Watson), but authors have been writing gay (if that’s not an anachronistic term) romances for centuries. As a latecomer to fandoms, it was in novels that I first saw real representations of same-sex couples, and some of those stories have stuck with me for years. These are the best of them.

1890-affectionate_Valentine_couple-US-219x300 Top 10 Best Gay Novels Past and Present

Past ~ the best of traditional literature.

The Charioteer – Mary Renault

My desert island book. Set during WWII in the aftermath of Dunkirk, Laurie “Spud” Odell struggles to reconcile his sexuality — and attraction to two very different men — with the social mores of 1940s England.

The Story of the Night – Colm Toibin

An absolutely haunting, lyrical novel set in Argentina during the Falkland war and the advent of AIDS.

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

A novella but I don’t care, it’s making this list. Set in Paris in the 1950s, Giovanni’s Room tells the story of an American ex-patriot who leads a dull and conventional life until he falls for a beautiful Italian man.

Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote

A true Southern Gothic masterpiece, the coming-of-age story of Joel Knox. It contains a character named Jesus Fever – what more do you need to know?

The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst

Winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize, this wonderfully evocative novel is set in 1980s England as the shadow of AIDS looms large over Thatcher’s London.

Maurice – EM Forster

Written in 1913 and dedicated “to a happier year”, did you know this story was the inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

While England Sleeps – David Leavitt

The story of a cross-class love affair between two Englishmen separated by more than just money, set during the 1930s as Spain dissolves into ideological conflict and Europe prepares for a second World War.

The Immoralist – Andre Gide

After a close brush with death, a Parisian scholar resolves to live his life free of the constraints of society’s moral imperative.

Sins of the Cities of the Plain – Jack Saul

Yes, it’s porn. Victorian porn, to be exact. But I love this book not only for the striking similarity of vocabulary to today’s erotica (and the differences!); and not only for the insight it gives to mid-Victorian society (spot the cameo from Fanny and Stella!); but also because it’s so much fun. I giggle like a teenager every time I read this book.

The Man with the Golden Gun – Ian Fleming

If you don’t believe Bond fell in love with Scaramanga, you haven’t read it right.

 

Present ~ the best of m/m romance.

The Boy I Love – Marion Husband

Haunting, lyrical, exquisite… I cannot praise this novel enough. Set in the aftermath of WWI, a damaged young man returns from war to face a very personal conflict.

Safeword – AJ Rose

Not only a compelling police procedural, this book digs under the skin of BDSM – so wronged in literature since that 50 Shades nonsense – and reminds us that people are most perfect when they acknowledge their flaws.

Hot Head – Damon Suede

A love song to New York City, the emotional impact of this book floored me when I first read it.

Widdershins – Jordan L. Hawk

A paranormal historical geek-meets-hot-detective story with hell of a lot of difference, and just about the most adorable MC ever written, with the heartbreaking name Whyborne.

Something Different – T. Baggins

The title says it all. A happily married man meets a rent boy and his world turns upside down.

Restraint – DarkEmeralds

Am I nominating a free online fanfic? Yes I am, but this book is so much more than J2 Supernatural fantasy. It’s a beautifully realised, meticulously accurate Regency novel with only the barest nod to the fandom from which it emerged (just enough for those in the know to snigger and smile indulgently). It will suck you in and break your heart if you let it.

Big Deal – Katsura & Yuramei

Something else entirely different. Set in a small Scottish village, a group of madcap gangsters go on a mission. The characters a rough, dangerous, and brutal men, but they’ll still make your heart melt. Bad boys at their best!

Inertia – Amelia C. Gormley

The story of Derrick, a young man with his whole life before him but he lives like it’s already over, trapped in a cycle of not feeling to stop himself getting hurt. When he finally meets someone he wants to care about, he has to learn to love all over again.

Junction X – Erastes

Set in 1960s England, Edward lives a cookie-cutter suburban life in his cookie-cutter suburban street. Except, behind the picture perfect facade, things aren’t always what they seem.

Demons of the Heart – RoughDraftHero

Another book that I think truly sums up what m/m is all about. Set in an alternate universe where demons walk the earth and want to attend school with the human kids, it’s a fun and easy read that suddenly gets you right in the feels and makes you care far more than you should.

 

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10 replies on “Top 10 Best Gay Novels Past and Present”

  1. OMG, thank you so much! I’m honored to be on your list among such fantastic company. <3

  2. Lucas H says:

    These look like some really great readings recs! I’m going to have to pick a few of them up I think. The only one I’ve read is Giovanni’s Room. I read it over 10 years ago and the ending is one that STILL sticks with me.

    • Kate Aaron says:

      Well I love them all 🙂 that’s what I look for in a book, something that resonates, that keeps dragging me back to the story until I have to read it over and over again.

  3. Allison says:

    Thanks for the lists! I really have to read The Charioteer and a lot of the other books look interesting as well. I have read and also loved 5 of the books on your Present list, I will have to definitely go looking for the others.

    • Kate Aaron says:

      OMG yes you so do! I first read it at uni more years ago than I care to remember, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve re-read it since.

      • Allison says:

        I think I’m a little afraid of it. I feel like I’m going to be torn up after reading it but I will read it.

        • Kate Aaron says:

          People have a love/hate relationship with it because it’s so understated, there’s a lot of reading between the lines necessary to get what’s going on, primarily because it was published in the early ’50s and she was writing about something that was illegal.

  4. Lucy says:

    Great lists! Some books I already love, and some good to-read ideas. I was glad to see Restraint here: it blew me away.

    • Kate Aaron says:

      I’m soooo picky with historical novels, particularly Regency, because usually they’re horribly inaccurate and it throws me out of the story. Restraint was perfect.

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