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Hinterland: "Galgut shows us how race and class bring status and sexuality threatens it."

Date: Jun 9 2015

I must be drawn to stories where plot is secondary to the emotions explored by the film maker or, in this case, the writer for here is a novel about longing and wanting to connect. Damon Galgut has taken a real figure and written a story that shows how a person is affected when desire and love conflict with the expectations of the age.

E.M. Forster wrote a novel I spent a lot of time with when I was seventeen. ‘A Passage to India’ was the set text for my A Level English course and I was made to suffer many hours in a classroom picking it to pieces. I would have had more sympathy had I known, back then, what is known now and what forms the basis of this novel, Forster’s struggle with his sexuality.

Love is where it falls but for those living in early Twentieth Century Britain love could only be expressed if it suited society’s norms. E. M. Forster was gay but could not be openly so. His sense of loneliness pervades the book. Morgan Forster is constrained by a dominating mother and an unwillingness to risk everything in pursuit of love, despite being surrounded by others who make their feelings clear.

The novel covers the meeting between Morgan and a young Indian student, Masood, in England to pursue his studies. The Englishman is smitten by the Indian but it is a relationship that will never meet his hopes. Masood goes back to India and Morgan promises to visit him there. Through travels in Egypt and back to India, we see the tormented writer move in and out of relationships. His love for a young Egyptian, Mohammed, proves to be more promising at the physical level but brings its own complications.

Throughout the book, we see how expectations of the Empire are imposed and how the society polices itself through acceptance and censure. Galgut shows us how race and class bring status and sexuality threatens it. In this conflicted way, Morgan writes a gay book never to be published in his lifetime and eventually finishes a novel that shows how cultures can misread each other. ‘Arctic Summer’ is the book he never finished but ‘A Passage to India’ emerges instead.

‘Arctic Summer’ by Damon Galgut is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?