Before I review this book I must declare a bias, I know the author.
Geoffrey Hooper is a 75 year-old gay man that lives in the same village as Andy and I. In the two years we’ve known him he has become an integral part of our life here in Mid-Wales. He has a huge heart, can drink us under the table and used to be an Anglican vicar!
So when he told us he’d written a book my first instinct was to be afraid – what if I didn’t like it, what if it was bad?
I needn’t have worried – An Honest Life is a very interesting tale indeed.
Written in his own words, the narrative recounts key moments in Geoffrey’s life from birth to the present day. It’s the story of a how through being many different versions of himself including a husband, a father, a divorcee, a lover, a counsellor and a priest he has discovered who he is and ultimately embraced his life as a gay man.
Geoffrey was born a humble greengrocers son on the eve of the Second World War. Growing up in a world before any of the gay freedoms we enjoy today, his path begins with self-denial and fitting in at all costs. It’s hard for me as a reader to contemplate the reality of being gay at the time but Geoffrey’s story offers me a glimpse into a world that I – as a young (ish!) gay man – should never forget.
The book looks at the two distinct themes of homosexuality and faith, and how they both push and pull the author relentlessly throughout his life.
The narrative has an almost essay-like feel (especially in the later chapters) which is easy to read in large chunks. I devoured the whole thing in a couple of sittings as each stage of his life led the author closer and closer to what he refers to as his ‘true self’
Parts of the book left me desperate for more detail – there are specific sections with fleeting references to relationships and experiences that beg to be explored further and in more visceral depth. In a memoir this fascinating it can be somewhat frustrating for the reader to be teased with the hint of an encounter and then left to wonder how it played out. But in a story involving living people I can see the need for discretion, especially considering the subject matter.
If, like me, you’ve had any sort of experience with organised religion (I went to Sunday School, sung in the choir etc) then this book will have something to say to you. I turned my back on the Church as I grew up and had even less to do with any form of religion once I came out, however reading Geoffrey’s story and seeing how he has kept spirituality in his life throughout his tumultuous journey resonated with me long after I finished the book.
Homosexuality and religion are such an explosive mix – An Honest Life, is a great read if you have any interest in how being both faithful and gay can cause harm, demonstrate unconditional love and ultimately lead to peace.
Although written as one man’s story, this book will resonate with you as a reader if you’ve ever struggled with your faith, your identity or with the way the rest of the world sees you.
So I guess that’s everyone then.