Love amid apartheid

Leap of Faith by Mel Gough

r/suggestmeabook: I want an m/m romance set in the postwar period between two WWII vets.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 266

Publisher: Red Dog Press

From the publisher: South Africa, 1953 – Father Daniel Blakemore is happy on his missionary secondment in a small, rural Providence Hospital on the Eastern Cape. Being away from England makes it easier for him to conceal his homosexuality – a secret that would destroy everything he’s ever worked for.

Although this ended up being an enjoyable m/m romance, I was expecting more from the South African setting than it being primarily a backdrop. The emphasis here is on the status of homosexuality in the postwar period, also interesting, but introducing South Africa at the outset lead me to believe apartheid would have more of a central role in the narrative.

The book switches between a first person narrative by Blakemore and a third person close from Raleigh’s point of view, keeping the two distinct while allowing the reader more information about each character. Both are veterans of WWII, but only Blakemore served in a combat situation, and the depiction of PTSD (“shell shock,” as it was known then) is both sensitive and compelling. It’s particularly interesting that Gough uses both the external triggers (noise, for example) and the internal triggers (the recollection of being in love, for example) for episodes of PTSD.

The characters are likable, and it’s easy to root for their romance. It’s slightly graphic, and there is limited cursing, but those scenes effectively address the internal conflict of those taught that sexual preferences (indeed, sexuality generally) are sinful. The fact that Blakemore is a man of faith adds the dimension of contrasting faith with religious dogma.

Gough’s portrayal of the closeted lives of gay men in England in the postwar period is sensitive and compassionate. The intense loneliness and displacement of men who are striving to be “normal”—or just to avoid criminal prosecution—and the moments where the pressure just gets to be too much are poignant and memorable.

Leap of Faith is an enjoyable slice of m/m romance, highlighting the dangers of homosexual relationships in the postwar period.

An abbreviated version of this review was first published in Historical Novels Review.

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