Like Danika at the Lesbrary, I was quite surprised by British author V.T. Davy’s unusual novel A Very Civil Wedding. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. I guess technically A Very Civil Wedding is a novel, but it certainly doesn’t follow any narrative structure that I’ve ever encountered before. In a way, actually, A Very Civil Wedding is more like a mockumentary than anything else, which makes for quite interesting reading. It does create a kind of patchwork narrative, but by giving the reader bits and pieces of the story in the form of news articles, blog posts, diary entries, conversation records, speeches, event programs, meeting minutes, and other tidbits. At some parts of the novel this strategy dragged a bit, especially during the actual marriage ceremony, which is communicated through a very thorough but dry program that outlines absolutely everything that happens. Overall, though, I think Davy’s unique format is pretty successful.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. A Very Civil Wedding is an unusual book not only because of its format, but because of its subject matter. This novel imagines a world in the very near future (2014, in fact, which I guess is the present now!) but in a kind of alternate universe, where the children of Prince of Wales (a.k.a. Prince Charles) are both girls, and the older one is a bona fide dyke. Princess Alexandra wants to marry her long-term partner Grace. No big deal, right? Wrong. What Davy has done is take this hypothetical situation—which was actually mentioned by a politician last May when a same-sex marriage law was being reviewed in the U.K. (it passed)—and use it to talk about all the complexities of the same-sex marriage debate. From both sides.
The fact that this book gives voice to anti-marriage equality advocates probably strikes you as strange. It struck me as strange. But I think it’s a really interesting strategy of investigation in this novel. It’s really tempting to ignore the humanity and the complexity of folks who are working against us, but if we really want things to get better and if we want folks to unlearn homophobia, then don’t we have to acknowledge them as multifaceted human beings, like the rest of us? This is definitely something I would never have said in my younger queer days, but it’s a direction my thoughts have been moving in lately and A Very Civil Wedding is in line with this kind of thinking. Also, if you’re LGBTQ and religious (particularly if you’re Christian), this novel is definitely something you’ll want to look at. That said, if you feel like reading about homophobes (mostly the kind who say things like “Some of my best friends are gay people but I don’t want them to get married” but some extremists as well) could be upsetting or triggering for you, you probably shouldn’t read this book.
There were a few things that I didn’t love about A Very Civil Wedding, I’ll be honest. I mean, the writing is solid but not especially interesting. Another thing is that the book uses the term homosexuality and I’m not sure if it’s a British thing but I just plain don’t like it and felt weird having it used by pro-queer folks. It just has a clinical tinge to it, and it is the term used almost exclusively by anti-LGBQ activists (in North America, anyway). I enjoyed that even though this was a story about a lesbian couple, there were also gay guys (one a Polish immigrant and the other a South Asian Muslim) as well as a trans man but I was disappointed that this wasn’t rounded off with the presence of a trans woman. I also wasn’t thrilled about the lack of critique about the military-industrial complex that the brides to be are involved in (they’re both in the navy).
Lastly, how does this book relate to my blog? Well let’s just say that the two royal ladies suffer some setbacks back in Britain and end up coming to Canada in order to have the Anglican ceremony they’re after. I’m the last person who would ever say she was interested in the British royal family, but I admit if Prince William were a lesbian named Alexandra, I’d be pretty excited if she was coming to Canada to have a big gay wedding. Which is precisely what happens in A Very Civil Wedding.