Focus Book Reviews: Nothing Ever Just Disappears by Diarmuid Hester

Our book review of Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Queer Histories by Diarmuid Hester

What do you think of when you imagine your safe space? A palatial home with soaring windows or a humble cabin in a glen? A ramshackle treehouse, a window seat, a coffeehouse table, or just a bed with a special blanket? It’s the place where your mind unspools and creativity surges, where you relax, process, and think. It’s the place you truly belong, just like in new book Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Queer Histories.

Clinging to “a spit of land on the south-east coast of England” is Prospect Cottage, where artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman lived until he died of AIDS in 1994. It’s a simple four-room place, but it was important to him. Not long ago, Nothing Ever Just Disappears author Diarmuid Hester visited Prospect Cottage to examine the importance of queer places in the history of arts and culture.

In his classic book, Maurice, writer E.M. Forster imagined the lives of two men who loved one another but could never be together and their romantic meeting near a second-floor window. Unfortunately, though, Foster didn’t allow publication of the novel until after his death, in fear it was “too radical.” 

Patriarchal power, says Hester, largely controlled who was able to occupy certain spots in London at the turn of the last century. Still, “queer suffragettes” there managed to leave their mark: women like Vera Holme, chauffeur to suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst; writer Virginia Woolf; newspaperwoman Edith Craig, and others who “made enormous contributions to the cause.”

Josephine Baker grew up in poverty, learning to dance to keep warm, but she had Paris, the city that “made her into a star…” Artist and “transgender icon” Claude Cahun loved Jersey, the place where she worked to “show just how much gender is masquerade.” Writer James Baldwin felt most at home in a small town in France. B-filmmaker Jack Smith embraced New York – and vice versa. And on a personal journey, Hester mourns his friend, artist Kevin Killian, who lived and died in his beloved San Francisco.

Juxtaposing place and person, Nothing Ever Just Disappears features an interesting way of presenting the idea that both are intertwined deeper than it may seem at first glance. The point is made with grace and lyrical prose, in a storyteller’s manner that offers back-story and history as author Diarmuid Hester bemoans the loss of “queer spaces.” 

This is a lovely, meaningful book—though readers may argue the points made as they pass through the places included here. Landscapes change with history all the time; don’t modern “queer spaces” count?

That’s a fair question to ask, one that could bring these “hidden” histories full circle. We often preserve important monuments from history. In memorializing the actions of the queer artists who’ve worked for the future, the places that inspired them are worth enshrining, too.Reading this book may be the most relaxing, soothing thing you’ll do this month. Try Nothing Ever Just Disappears. It really hits the spot.

At a glance:

Pegasus Books, 2024
358 pages

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