OF THE GROUP of remarkable writers who made up the so-called Violet Quill in the early ’80s, Andrew Holleran is perhaps the nicest. Without either the literary panache of Edmund White or the versatile stamina of Felice Picano, he has written a number of novels that chart the progress of a certain sort of white, cis gay male world since the halcyon days of his youth, before the AIDS epidemic seemed to end the promises of gay liberation in the 1970s.
Whereas White and Picano are both charming and outgoing, Holleran has always been withdrawn, even melancholic. (The other four writers who comprised the Violet Quill are long dead, all from AIDS.) The Kingdom of Sand—a smarter reader than I might be able to explain the title—is a book without a traditional plot, and only a writer with Holleran’s skills could manage to hold his readers without the conventional twists and surprises of most novels. From the outset we are warned that this is a mediation on death and dying, in which there will be few incidents and the only surprises will be those brought on by the human body’s frailty.
Dennis Altman is a professorial fellow in human security at La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia.