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Forgetting Elena: A Novel Paperback – October 4, 1994

3.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Combining glittering wit, an atmosphere dense in social paranoia, and a breathtaking elegance and precision of language, White's first novel suggests a hilarious apotheosis of the comedy of manners. For, on the privileged island community where Forgetting Elena takes place, manners are everything. Or so it seems to White's excruciatingly self-conscious young narrator who desperately wants to be accepted in this world where everything from one's bathroom habits to the composition of "spontaneous" poetry is subject to rigid conventions.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 4, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067975573X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679755739
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
A vanished gay culture and setting (recognizably The Pines in the 1960s) transformed into an icy fantasy, with details borrowed from the ceremonial court life of ancient Japan and Java. An amnesiac narrator finds himself in an imaginary island society, at once funny and horrific, where refined, ever-changing rules govern the slightest action. He must somehow deduce his own identity from the enigmatic offhand remarks of others around him while not giving himself away.
Though infused with a gay sensibility, this is not a "gay book". In it, obsessive aestheticism and obsessive love face each other, gradually becoming deadly enemies.
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Format: Paperback
White's first novel is a fascinating study of an obsessive mind in action. The narrator, who lives on an island that in some ways resembles Fire Island, is a compulsive amnesiac who is apparently terrified to admit to anyone that he doesn't know who he is or what his relationship is to the people around him. It is clear he would feel embarassed if anyone found out. But as he attempts to determine his status in this highly stratified society, it is clear that its values are very much a part of his subconscious.
Truly a book in which form reflects content, the style of the writing is self-conscious and always exquisitely phrased. This book is not for everyone. For me, however, this novel is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century literature. It is simultaneously a mystery, a comedy of manners and a haunting love story.
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Format: Paperback
This is a classic novel, and one that works on several levels. A satire of Fire Island gay culture? Yes, but it works even if you have no idea that this is what the book is supposed to be "about," as I didn't when I first read it years ago. The prose is seamlessly perfect, and the device of the amnesiac narrator, which shouldn't work, actually does.
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This is a slim, lush novel set on Fire Island in the 1960's, and written years before the plague of AIDS. Its subject is the intoxicating, intimidating, seductive, and ultimately cruelly destructive hip gay demimonde: the ruling class there -- and its "subjects." Gifted and kind-hearted novelist-critic-memoirist-teacher Edmund White's first novel, and the one that got him noticed, then praised by Nabokov and many others. It describes a lost world, but has much to say about the one remaining. Beautifully constructed and definitely worth reading.
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By A Customer on December 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is not an easy book. It is striking and memorable. If you read it more for the immediate effect of the imagery rather than try to figure out a plot or the characters, it is much more rewarding. I'm not knowledgeable about the model of Fire Island society but that is secondary anyway. If you are looking for a real page-turner, this book is not for you. If you read slowly and visualize what the author describes, you will be amply rewarded.This book may be about life on a beach but it is not a "beach book."
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So, is it pretentious tripe or one of the great masterpieces of the 20th Century? I can see how you might argue for either position. But what I can't see is how anyone can describe the book as funny, comical, etc., which a number of mainstream reviewers did. I had one or two mild chuckles along the way, but where's the humor in rejection, betrayal, public humiliation and suicide?

I was going to give the novel four stars, but any book that makes me look at the world differently, any book that haunts me the way this one is doing, is worth more than that. And then when I think of some of the truly pretentious tripe that some people think is great writing, I definitely have to give it five.

Finally, I'd really like to know what the author was on when he wrote it.
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