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Aging, Opposition and Openness in One Last Song by Nathan Evans

By Iona Fleming, Katie Farr, Ayman Sabir and Eleanor Bowskill

What happens when elderly queer people go into care homes – places which may not accept and celebrate their identities? This is the question asked by Nathan Evans in One Last Song, his debut romance novel. The story follows Joan, a proud gay man who has spent his life fighting for gay liberation, as he moves into a care home where many of the residents and staff refuse to accept him as he is. But Joan soon realises his seemingly grumpy neighbour Jim may have more in common with him than first impressions suggest.

Though Evans has written and published short stories before, as well as the play Swan Song which shares the same story as One Last Song, this was his first time writing long-form fiction. Already having the skeleton of the story allowed Evans to experiment with his writing, as well as additional elements that weren’t included in the stage play, such as expanding the cast of characters. It also allowed Evans to develop Jim’s and Joan’s backstories further, giving the reader insight into their past lives and the experiences that shaped their characters. Evans hopes to write more novels in the future and, whilst he acknowledges some of the challenges that come with a medium which simply takes a long time, he does have another idea in the works for a longer novel.

The novel’s setting, primarily in the care home, was not so much a choice, Evans explains, as a reflection of the world of these characters. While on the one hand the novel’s key location stems from the fact that it was originally a play with limited opportunities for a range of settings, it is also true to the story itself – to Jim and Joan, their world has shrunk down to a few rooms. They do not leave the memories of their pasts behind (indeed their previous relationships greatly influence their actions and views), but it is up to them to bring elements of the outside world into the care home and to reject other elements.

A lot of the characters’ behaviour is linked to the theme of generational age that Evans weaves throughout his piece. Evans was inspired by a Channel 4 documentary where older people were forced back into the closet due to moving into care homes. Joan’s character originates from the question Evans asked himself while watching the documentary: What would happen if someone who was in the Gay Liberation Front and refused to go back into the closet was inserted into the context of a care home? Evans explains that Joan would never have had to deal with the types of people whose “attitudes haven’t moved on” from those of their generation because Joan’s profession within theatre and his life in West London allowed him to express who he was fully. While Joan refuses to go back into the closet, Jim begins the story very much having returned to the closet, even after a long-term gay relationship before entering the care home. Through the clashes in their presentation of queerness and views towards liberation, Jim and Joan represent aspects of the fight for gay liberation; outrage, opposition and putting concrete steps in place for gradual change – all of which are necessary to progress.

The narrative alternates between Joan’s and Jim’s voices, a choice which Evans made early on in the writing process. Inspired by Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman, another novel about elderly queer men, Evans wanted to use distinct voices for each character. After briefly experimenting with the second person, Evans settled on a first-person perspective for Joan’s character and the third person for Jim’s sections. This choice reflects the personalities of each character, with Joan (though “not a selfish person”) being more “self-focused,” whereas Jim is “a much more distant, removed, hard-to-get-at character.” The distinctiveness and contrast between the two protagonists comes through in every aspect of the novel.

The novel’s celebration of the acceptance of genders, sexualities and identities amongst the elderly is beautifully illustrated through Joan’s incredibly unique personality and image, which Evans explains is largely defined in opposition to the conventions and stereotypes he’s most against, as well as his feminine choice of name and clothing. Part of Joan’s journey is depicted through his relationship with Jim because, as Evans states, it clears up new questions about what Joan wants compared to what he doesn’t. Evans clarifies that another contributing factor towards Joan’s fluorescent, strong personality is the choice of setting: the care home itself. Joan gets thrown into a place that has never been familiar to him and, because of this, Evans reiterates the importance of Joan’s stubbornness in trying to maintain this identity.  

On the flip side of Joan’s open and expressive personality, Jim prefers to show his vulnerability and doesn’t try to hide this. Evans describes that one of Joan’s main conflicts within himself is concealing this exposure as though all of this is a “form of drag,” a “defence” system for him. Although Evans presents two very polar opposite characters, as the story progresses, we uncover the magnificent relationship that pulls the two together.

As a romance novel that challenges many traditional notions of romance, the characters provide an interesting perspective on love and marriage. Jim, a gay man who more or less “wants everything the straights have,” is happier to conform to society’s norms – monogamy and marriage seem a natural desire. Joan, on the other hand, sees marriage as a “patriarchal institution” and has never been in a long-term relationship, resisting a “heteronormative” view of love. But, perhaps, in the environment of a care home where Joan experiences homophobia and rejection, and where Jim feels compelled to suppress his identity, falling in love may just be the most radical thing they could do.


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