The Whole World Was Watching: Living In The Light Of Matthew Shepard by Romaine Patterson with Patrick Hindst was a watershed in modern gay history. The murder of Matthew Shepard, tortured and left to die on a fence in Wyoming in 1998, was sickening proof homophobia was alive and well -“ and could find the most violent expression. The 21-year-old’s death sparked a media frenzy, galvanised activists and spurred anti-gay extremists, who claimed Shepard had found his place in hell. Amid the cacophony, it seemed little thought was given to Shepard’s life before his murder, an oversight Romaine Patterson enthusiastically sets out to redress in her new book.

Patterson and Shepard met as students in Wyoming, and her reflections on their friendship -“ and on Shepard himself -“ are among the book’s highlights. Patterson, a career queer activist, is quick to stress Shepard should not be deified: his flaws are an important part of his memory. Patterson, now 27, also finds ample room in a deeply honest narrative for stories of her own life, from growing up with three gay brothers in middle America to coming out and exploring her sexuality. Her reminiscences of the Shepard murder trials also linger, notably the Angel Action demonstrations, when she and other activists donned spectacular angel wings to thwart protesters led by homophobic Baptist minister Fred Phelps. Shepard’s killers Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney eventually received life jail sentences.

Patterson’s willingness to glean hope from her friend’s tragic fate is also moving. The lesson she takes from Shepard’s death, which turned global attention (at least momentarily) to anti-gay hate crimes, is that one person can make a difference. Do your part, she writes. Use your voice. Make the world a better place.

Never Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro

All is not quite right at Hailsham, an exclusive school in deepest rural England. Its live-in students are told they are among the country’s most important, yet details of why they are at the institution -“ and what is in store for them after they leave -“ remain hazy. Enter Kathy, a carer for various donors, some of whom she grew up with at Hailsham. As Kathy reminisces on life at her former school and the friendships she formed there, Never Let Me Go‘s unsettling plot unfolds. Japanese-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel is part suspenseful page-turner, part slow-burning meditation on human relationships and the value of life.

At its heart is a highly topical -“ and controversial -“ subject, and the book could prove prescient as scientific advances continue. Its innovative storyline aside, Never Let Me Go is every bit an exhibition of the signature style seen in Ishiguro’s earlier work: the first-person narrative, the relentless shifts between the present and the past, and the skilful revelation of crucial plot details. In that way, it is disappointingly unoriginal. Never Let Me Go also revisits some of the Ishiguro’s favourite themes, particularly regret and the frailty of memory.

As usual, the former Booker Prize winner’s imaginative powers and attention to detail are impressive. But his technique -“ especially the constant chronological leaps -“ is at times repetitious. The result is a novel that falls well short of Ishiguro’s heartbreaking 1989 masterpiece The Remains Of The Day.

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