Finding a home

A home at the end of the world by Michael Cunningham is a moving read. I'd previously read his The hours, which is probably his best known work in which he follows three generations of women (including Virginia Woolf), all of whom are connected by Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway.

The major themes that unfold throughout that novel, include the changing roles of women, sexuality, and mental illness. If The hours studied female sexuality, A home at the end of the world is, at least in part, an examination of the changing face of being a gay man in America in the mid-twentieth century.

Jonathan and Bobby become schoolfriends in 1960s Cleveland. As they grow up, there seems to be a possibility that they will become lovers. Jonathan moves to New York, where he gets a good job, hangs around on the outer fringes of the gay scene, and moves in with Clare, an older woman, who is desperate to have a child. Jonathan, while appearing to embrace his sexuality also struggles with it. There is an opportunity to form a relationship with "Dr. Feelgood" Erich, but he stays with Clare, although they never become lovers, then Bobby moves to New York, and the relationships between the foursome change again.

Ultimately the boys will find their home at the end of the world, but it won't be quite what they expect, and as the AIDS epidemic spreads to New York, it will mark the end of the world that they thought they knew.

In some ways it's an oddly unsatisfying read, nothing much happens, there is very little resolution, or even really character development; but then, this is often fairly true of life too. Life doesn't always take you where you expect to go. What the novel does do extremely well, is show how society and its attitudes can change dramatically. In many ways Jonathan and Bobby's futures will be defined by AIDS, even if it doesn't affect them directly. Much of the novel centres around characters' attempts to redefine their lives, only to discover that actually they have very little control. Outside forces will often prove immutable.

This may sound rather a depressing read, and there are some very sad moments. But there's a lot of joy in the novel too; some outright funny moments, and throughout the writing is beautiful. I loved A home at the end of the world in a way that I never did The hours. I loved the kooky characters, desperately trying to make their own mark on life, I cared deeply about Jonathan, Clare, Bobby and Erich. I wanted them to be happy. And I just loved this tale. A story of people with all their imperfections and confusions, but also their love.


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