Books

Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness? review: A manifesto that all new queer art should follow

Why is it, asks Kevin Brazil in his new essay collection, that queer literature is so relentlessly miserable? It's time to embrace happiness

happy people at pride

Paris Pride in 2021 Image: Norbu Gyachung on Unsplash

The first essay of Kevin Brazil’s essay collection Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness? posits that very question. A quick survey of some of the most popular queer books in recent years reveals that they all have one major thing in common – their relentless misery. Édouard Louis’ The End of Eddy, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the list goes on. Why is it when people write about queer characters, or when queer people create art about queerness, it is rarely joyous, rarely the celebration that queer people claim it to be?  

Throughout eight essays, all of which are entertaining and enlightening, Brazil attempts to subvert this narrative, focusing on the people and reasons why queer art needs to embrace happiness. With essays on artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Derek Jarman, Brazil provides new analyses of their works and genuinely opens up their much-trodden oeuvres to new and exciting readings. The final essay in the collection, which is based around the set that the singer Robyn performed via livestream at the height of lockdown, is an utterly euphoric piece of writing. Having been part of the livestream at the time, it feels so invigorating to be able to relive it through the eyes and mind of Brazil, who treats it as a historic moment, a time when everybody got up and danced through our misery. 

Whatever happened to queer happiness book cover
Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness? by Kevin Brazil (Influx Press, £9.99)

In many ways, this is not an essay collection but a manifesto, a rubric that all new queer art should follow. It’s a big ask, of course, but Brazil is entirely convincing throughout. 

You can buy Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness? from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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