Book Reviews

Queer Square Mile Anthology edited by Kirsti Bohata, Mihangel Morgan, and Huw Osborne at Parthian Books

Genre Mixed Orientations / Mixed Time Periods/Genres / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 01-July-2022

Book Blurb

This ground-breaking volume makes visible a long and diverse tradition of queer writing from Wales. Spanning genres from ghost stories and science fiction to industrial literature and surrealist modernism, these are stories of love, loss and transformation.

In these stories gender refuses to be fixed: a dashing travelling companion is not quite who he seems in the intimate darkness of a mail coach, a girl on the cusp of adulthood gamely takes her father’s place as head of the house, and an actor and patron are caught up in dangerous game-playing. In the more fantastical tales there are talking rats, flirtations with fascism, and escape from a post-virus ‘utopia’. These are stories of sexual awakening, coming out and redefining one’s place in the world.

Release and a certain heady license may be found in the distant cities of Europe or north Africa, but the stories are for the most part located in familiar Welsh settings – a schoolroom, a provincial town, a mining village, a tourist resort, a sacred island. The intensity of desire, whether overt, playful, or coded, makes this a rich and often surprising collection that reimagines what being queer and Welsh has meant in different times and places.

The first anthology of its kind in Wales, which finally sheds light on a largely hidden queer cultural history with the careful selection of over 40 short stories (1837-2018).


Book Review

I think I already mentioned in a previous review that is quite hard to adequately review a short story collection—not only is it impossible to summarize a plot as there are several involved, but the same is true as to the different and diverse authors, writing styles, points of view, characters, etcetera. So, all I can provide is an overall feeling, an ad-hoc impression.


This collection of “queer short stories from Wales” was a real treat—I didn’t expect less, in fact, especially after having read the excellent, long, and erudite introduction by the editors, who start by pointing out that short stories are, apparently, a traditional Welsh literary form insofar as they spring from the “communal story-telling tied to a local sense of ‘this place’ – one’s milltigr sqwâr [square mile] as it is called in Wales” (I understood at last the collection’s title, too). I admit that I skipped the second half of this introduction, not because it was less interesting or helpful, but because it presented the stories, one by one, and I hate the beans being spilled before I taste them, if I may use this expression. So, I dove in without further ado, turning the pages until reaching the first story.


From then on, I was captivated. I didn’t expect such a wide variety of stories, in fact. Bundled roughly in broad thematical sweeps that range from ghost stories to disorderly women, to quote but two, they span more than 150 years of writing, the earliest story dating back to 1837, the most recent one to 2018. Admittedly, some were very queer in the original sense of the word without striking me as outright queer in the sense our LGBTQ+ community understands it today. Indeed, from time to time I wondered why such and such story was even included in this collection. What I never found wanting, however, was the literary quality, even in those cases where the stories were translated from Welsh (luckily for me, because otherwise, with my nonexistent knowledge of that language, this would have been a short pleasure for me, indeed)—I mention this because translations are always tricky and can take off or file away some intrinsic essence of a writer’s style.


Another admission: although I thoroughly enjoyed the whole range of stories, the more recent ones drew me in more intensely. Two stories stood out especially, for me. In the first, ‘Red Earth, Cyrenaica’, by Stevie Davies, I guess it was the dreamlike, atmospheric writing and the tangible, smell- and tasteable descriptions (pardon the invention of these two words) as well as the depth of the narrator’s feelings, almost hidden behind very few words (this was a very short short story, after all), and the sadness, the bittersweet nostalgia of love long lost that made something vibrate in me. The second was a longer piece, ‘Muscles Came Easy’ by Aled Islwyn, and there too, the style and the painful yet only hinted-at plot and subplot made for a fascinating, enthralling read, enhanced by the direct, punch-like, almost oratory style.


All in all, I can only recommend this collection very highly. It’s probably not a book you should read the way I did, that is, from the first to the last story, with only few and short pauses between each. No, I guess it would be better to pick it up, taste one piece, close it, pick it up again sometime later, at your own rythm. Many stories would deserve to be digested, I reckon, and I know I’ll reread the collection at a slower pace in the near future.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of  review.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Anthology/ 40 short stories, 647 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 21-October-2021
Price $14.99 ebook, $30.00 hardcover
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