Regardless of all the gender politics and subversiveness, this was simply a joy to read. A good old fashioned novel; a story, with characters and events which had consequences.
Millie is coming of age in 1950s Glasgow. She is courted by a dapper young gent called Joss Moody, who tells her he is going to be a famous jazz trumpet-player. They go steady for a while, dances and the cinema and the like and Joss is always immaculately turned out. She is the envy of her girlfriends on the arm of this handsome man. After a few months, Millie is confused as to why Joss has never tried anything more than a kiss with her.
One night finally they do, and the reason for the reticence becomes clear: Joss was born Josephine. But by then Millie is already in love with him (and Kay and Millie, keep up the use of male pronouns throughout the novel, and it seems so right that they do).
None of this is a spoiler – it is all at the start of the book. The book is about their life together. Their unspoken conspiracy / understanding to maintain this as their secret. They get married and adopt a son. And right through until his death, Joss remains a man in the eyes of the world, including Colman, the boy they raise together. The book is mainly about the aftermath of the death and the life the death exposes.
There are other “transgressions”, at least for the time, in the book: Joss is black and Millie white. It is almost as if Millie is prepared to let the waves of prejudice on this front crash against her, because it means people don’t dig deeper in other ways. This ignorance acts as a screen against any other ignorance that would be brought to light if their sexuality became known.
Kay is primarily known as a poet, indeed she is the Scots Makar (poet laureate) and she is fine manipulator of language and of words. It is the kind of novel that leaves a warm feeling when finished.