What We Thought:
This is Jonathan Kemp's debut novel and is a fascinating insight into gay history over the last 100 years. Whether you are straight or gay, it is an absorbing read. The characters are well-rounded human beings, with their strengths and imperfections. The book is set in London and links the lives of Jack from 1895, Colin in 1954, and David in 1998.
Jack is a rent boy with few inhibitions. He lives a life of hedonism and adventurous sex, meeting men from all classes in suppressed Victorian society, notably the soon to be famous Oscar Wilde.
Colin is an aspiring artist. He lives in the asceticism of post-war London and is filled with self-doubt and self-loathing. He tentatively explores his sexuality as he prepares for his most ambitious painting yet: London Triptych.
David is also a rent-boy, constantly seeking his next sexual high among the drug-partying crowds of the 90s.
The three stories are intertwined from chapter to chapter, in a series of apparently disparate episodes. It is only at the end that Kemp provides the surprising link between them.
This is a compelling read, a real page-turner. Kemp challenges his characters by throwing them at events and then watching them flounder and flail. It betrays their weaknesses and makes them real and three-dimensional. Too often in gay fiction, authors resort to stereotypes. This book is a commentary on the changes to the lives of gay men over the last one hundred years, and an insight into Kemp’s own views on gay men and love.
From a writer’s point of view it is a book that makes you stop and think, not just about the observations Kemp makes, but also about his prose style and his chosen structure. The book is ambitious and a very good first novel. Well worth reading.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Alan Hollinghurst: The Stranger’s Child, Michael Cunningham: The Hours
Avoid if you don’t like: Explicit sexual description
Ideal accompaniments: Strong coffee
Available from Amazon