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[301] London Triptych – Jonathan Kemp

” I had never known such happiness. Sometimes I thought I might explode with the intensity of it. It’s strange to recount all this, to tell all this to you, knowing that you will never hear it. There hasn’t been a single day in here I haven’t thought about you, wondered what you’re doing, and if you ever think of me. ” [77]

Stylistically evocative of the works of Michael Nelson and Alan Hollinghurst, London Triptych, Kemp’s debut, interweaves the lives of three men from three eras in a lyrical and unabashedly explicit narrative set against London’s gay underworld. In 1894, Jack Rose leaves his poor family and begins his apprenticeship as a rent boy. Uncomplicatedly libidinal, he finds the job delivering more than just a decent living, for he enjoys having sex with men without having to integrate such behavior into his sense of self—until he meets Oscar Wilde, who has awaken a storm of emotions in him like never before. But Wilde’s fake affection leaves him angry and disappointed.

I thought I meant something and I know this sounds stupid coming from a whore but it’s the truth. I wish it wasn’t but it is. I don’t know whether I would call it love because I’m certain I don’t know what that word means… [130]

Living a life that is completely at odds with Jack’s no-string attachment is Colin Read, a middle-aged artist who has been ashamed of his desires and keeps his emotions at bay. In 1954, recently widowed, Colin explores his sexuality as he works on the preparation of a most ambitious painting, London Triptych. He falls in love with his model, Gregory, who represents the antithesis of what Colin has become in life, a kind of sexual freedom and audacity unimaginable to him. Colin cannot help feeling a vertiginous sadness over his wasted youth as he has kept his lustful desires in check over the years out of an inveterate morality surrounding homosexuality. He chooses to avoid a life of scandals and rumors at the expense of happiness and intimacy. Gregory is a mirror in which he sees his desires.

Gore’s curiosity is for pleasure, and is pursued with a hunger so huge I cannot fathom it. Yet I cannot accuse him of anything other than following his desires—something, surely, for which I at least have to commend him, having never dared open myself up to the possibility of unadulterated pleasure. [105]

Resolved to break the shackles by religion, by morality, by familial expectation, and by social conventionality is David, who formulates a life radically in defiance of what was expected of him. He lives a life of duplicity and turns to prostitution. The ego’s trip is one of escape, of unbridledness, and of constant stimulation. David is living life on the fast lane without realizing that true meaning has passed him by. He recounts his story in prison, addressing the narrative to his lover who has betrayed him.

Nothing about my life seemed real to me and that was just how I liked it, just how I wanted it . . . My pleasure lay in getting what I wanted even though I wasn’t sure why I wanted it. [92]

From living outside the law to living outside the society, as the connections between these men reveal themselves, one realizes that times are irrelevant when it comes to the sentiment of gay men: one of turmoil, of irretrievable loss, of struggle over stigma, and of unrequited love. One interesting thing about the book is that , while I’m taking notes in my journal, the different passages revealing the emotional terrains of the three men living over a span of time can be transposed to another one of them. London Triptych captures these political and emotional battles with a lyrical beauty and raw lucidity.

231 pp. Myriad Editions. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

*Thanks to Emma Dowson and Myriad Editions (Brighton, England) for the complimentary copy. London Triptych will be published on August 19, 2010 in the UK.

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9 Responses

  1. I like a novel that interweaves the story of different characters and gives a perspective on something like love from each of their viewpoints or lives. This sounds like one that would be great to discuss with a book club even though I know for you, you would rather read in solitude and have your own, uninterrupted thoughts about the book.

  2. This sounds very interesting to say the least, I would love to read it but don’t know if I’ll ever find it here. Hollinghurst has been translated here, so I hope this one will perhaps catch someone’s interest too. Two questions though – one about Oscar and the other about language : was Wilde shown in somewhat bad light here ? I know he used those rent boys, but I had this notion that he was not “fake” about it, as he was not with that little devil Bosie. A lot of this came up during his trial, I read some of the transcript, and I really did not feel Oscar anything less than a gentleman even in that, a bit sordid affairs. Maybe I love Oscar too much to see clearly. (Btw did you like the movie with “Oscar-Wilde-incarnated” Stephen Fry and Jude Law ?); as for the language itself, it seems, from what you quoted, that it’s quite beautiful. Did he try to capture the nature of language through those different times, the way people spoke in Oscar’s time and then later, accordingly ?

    I have a feeling that this book is somewhere between “Brideshead Revisited” and “Swimming pool Library”

  3. This book sounds wonderful! A comparison to Hollinghurst is really all I needed to hear.

  4. This sounds fascinating. I suspect I would be very moved by this book. Thanks for the review.

  5. […] Recommendation: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook […]

  6. I hope you don’t mind me commenting here about this, but this book is eligible for the Indie Lit Awards (book blogger awards) GLBTQ category. Any book published in 2010 is. I notice you like this, if you did really like it (or another GLBTQ book!) would you consider nominating it? http://indielitawards.wordpress.com/glbtq/

    • Great! I thought the award is only limited to US authors. I’ll go over my notes for the book and make the nomination officially.

      • Oh no! Any and all are welcome 😀 I’m Canadian, so definitely no US only rules coming from me anyway! If need be, I’ll send copies from here down to the US judges 😉

  7. You ought to really moderate the remarks on this page

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