REVIEW: The Milkman Is On His Way by David Rees

May 26, 2024

The Milkman Is On His Way

David Rees


review by Eric Page

Unsure if his parents will ever accept his sexuality, Ewan knows that in his claustrophobic hometown he’ll never fully be himself. Perhaps in a bustling and far-away city like London there is a whole new world waiting…

This is a ‘lost’ gay classic and hugely important for Queer representation in 1980’s British fiction. The book was celebrated by librarians on publication for its honest exploration of the struggle for identity, but scandal and controversy followed later. Published just before the AIDS pandemic took hold, The Milkman’s on His Way was hated by the Daily Mail (quelle surprise, no change there then) and  suppressed under Section 28 due to manufactured public outcry about its “obscene,” sexually explicit contents.

“The Milkman Is On His Way” is a groundbreaking novel that shines a light on the struggles and desires of young gay men in working class Britain during the 1980’s. At a time when being gay was still widely stigmatized and the AIDS crisis stoked fear and misinformation, this story provided an authentic, unapologetic portrayal that gave hope to countless readers.

Author David Rees crafts a narrative that is at once painfully realistic about the harsh social environment, yet optimistic in depicting the possibility of finding belonging within a supportive community. The semi-autobiographical tale follows the burgeoning sexual awakening of Ewan Macrae. Ewan is gay. At the turn of the 1980s, being queer in a Cornish seaside town seems impossible. The teenage world he lives in is obsessed with girls, jobs and surfing, yet the handsome Leslie – his ripped surfing buddy – preoccupies Ewan’s thoughts. Through Rees’s rich sensual prose, readers viscerally experience Ewan’s inner turmoil and ecstasy as he tentatively explores his identity.

What makes this novel so impactful is how it valorises the quotidian lives of working-class gay youth. Too often, LGBTQ+ stories centered around affluent circles or framed queer characters through a lens of tragedy. But “The Milkman Is On His Way” celebrates the vibrancy, humour, and resilience of a community forged through shared struggles against oppression. Ewan’s evolution from shame and confusion to self-acceptance and Queer Joy represented the journey of so many at the time.

In giving an earnest, multi-dimensional portrayal of gay lives often ignored by the mainstream, this novel was a profound affirmation for countless readers starved of positive representation. “The Milkman Is On His Way” let young gay men see themselves in print, perhaps for the first time – not as objects of pity or scorn, but as fully realized human beings worthy of tenderness and joy. It assured them that they were not alone, and that people like them existed out there, fighting to forge spaces of love and belonging despite society’s cruelties, and showed them that there were other men, like them, ready to hold, kiss and fuck each other free from shame.

Nearly four decades later, this novel remains a vital timepiece and its legacy echoes through generations of queer literature to follow.  With an introduction from Paul Baker looking at its importance and an afterword by Torsten Højer reflecting on its impact  this new reprint of “The Milkman Is On His Way” confirms it’s status as a seminal work that gave voice to the voiceless and paved the way for the diverse tapestry of LGBTQ+ stories we celebrate today.

Out June 1st £9.99

For more info or to order this delightful reissue see the publisher’s website here

There is a Launch event for the republication of David Rees’s superb book in Manchester on 16th June, full details, and tickets here.