LGBTQ characters star in four of the best new historical fiction novels.
The Cape Doctor
By E.J. Levy
Little, Brown, 352 pages, $35.00
This resplendent debut novel, inspired by the life and work of trans icon Dr. James Miranda Barry, is sure to create lively discussion about the legacy of this prominent early 19th century physician.
In Levy’s telling, narrator Dr. Jonathan Mirandus Perry receives a midwifery text as a gift from his mentor. He finds the illustrations enrapturing. Although presenting himself as male is essential to be able to financially provide for his mother and sister, Perry soon appreciates the freedom of being male, shrugging off “sweet disposition like a cloak” and revelling in the “greatest liberty of men: not to have to please.”
Perry serves in several posts as a physician for the British Army, improving living conditions for prisoners and lepers. He performs the first Caesarian in Africa. In Cape Town, he works for the governor’s household and their affair leads to a secret pregnancy and rumours of a potentially criminal bond. Perry learns that “love’s the wound we don’t recover from.”
Sumptuous careful prose, particularly affecting about Perry’s vocation.