Queer City by Peter Ackroyd (2017): A Book Review

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Queer City is a non-fictional book by Peter Ackroyd and is an insight into the queer history of London. The author splits and divides the history into specific parts of queer London up to the modern day, and starts with the language. During the course of the book, Ackroyd explores the origin of words like “gay” and “lesbian,” the author goes on an exploration of words associated with homosexuality. 

I was excited to read this publication, especially since I enjoyed my history GCSE – plus I wanted to find out more about queer history, because unfortunately I wasn’t taught about any LGBTQ+ history during my education. So I was excited to delve deep into an aspect of history that I didn’t have any knowledge and experience with. Though what I like about Ackroyds book is that is an educational book, but it doesn’t focus to much on the academic side (unlike Queer: A Graphic History) – it is also quite short (it has 232 pages + bibliography and index) – I also liked this because then I would feel as though it would go on and on, so I liked the fact that it was quite slim. It also made the book more readable, which is another added bonus. 

In addition, I also love Ackroyds final statement in the book, ‘“This book is a celebration, as well as a history, of the continual and various human world maintained in its diversity despite persecution, condemnation and affliction. It represents the ultimate triumph of London.’ These words at the back of the book is inspiring, and makes me proud of an aspect of queer history – plus its nice to learn about a part of history that isn’t Stonewall or the AIDS crisis (though the book does briefly touch on these two events later in the book). 

Furthermore, I also like the chronological order of the book – . Obviously the nature of using existing evidence means that Ackroyd’s research will tend to be on incidents which moved over into public knowledge and these will most likely be court cases when something has gone wrong. There’s the odd surprising fact, however. He states that in terms of population, there were probably as many “gay bars” in 17th Century as in 21st Century London. It also just makes sense that you would go in chronological order for a majority of the book (though the evidence may vary). 

Though I do understand why people would understand why people wouldn’t be thrilled by the title, especially since the word ‘queer’ has been used in a derogatory way in the past, but it has been reclaimed by some.  Ackroyd also defends the use of the term queer as the word now commonly used by academics and “Queer Studies” appears in academia. I personally don’t mind the title, as well as the word ‘queer‘ because it is a part of our history – so I think it’s important to reclaim it. Again, I can understand why some may have a gripe with the term.

 

 

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