From Publishers Weekly
As recent events have shown, talking about sex has become no less banal than not talking about it. This is a lesson that Gabriel Jones, the 20-something British slacker-type narrator of Duncan's first novel, would do well to have learned. Gabriel's lust for pornography drives him out of the arms of his first love, Alicia, and into those of Hope, nom de guerre of the superprostitute who lets him act out his most-repressed fantasies. Duncan presents the guilt-ridden Gabriel's story in a series of nicely constructed, fragmentary mea culpas. Unfortunately, the moment that Gabriel's confessions build towards is a double childhood trauma that makes the novel as preachily predictable and flat as any allegory. The staccato and brutal language of pornography has so penetrated Gabriel's vocabulary that he uses the most vulgar terms of common vernacular for sexual parts and congress. The result is that even what he understands as love reads as just another kind of stunted male fantasy. The novel's major flaw is that Gabriel never finds the words to express his conflict between love and lust in terms as interesting as his astute remarks on pornography.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A maudlin debut novel by a young Brit about romantic failure, filled with trendy musings on the transgressive (S/M, child abuse, pornography) in contemporary culture. Gabriel Jones, the narrator, offers us a long look back at his impossibly tragic, sordid life. He is currently living in London in a kind of limbo, and he hopes that by mulling over his past failures he can come to grips with the demons that drive him. ``Begin with Hope,'' he tells himself, but he isnt talking about the emotion. Hope turns out to be the expensive prostitute who gets him over his bouts of despair about Alicia, whose love he betrayed because of Katherine. In fervid, gushy prose--some of it quite good, yards of it over the top--Gabriel delivers what feels like the longest college all-night confessional in history. How he fell in love with Alicia: ``Nothing prepared me for soulful sex, sex that didn't retain its lust at the expense of its love, sex . . . with someone I genuinely liked.'' How Alicia, by deciding to do a feminist study of porn, introduced the worm--a centerfold spread that reminds Gabriel of how, when he was eight years old, he was initiated into sex by next-door neighbor Katherine, who he then witnessed being abused by a pig-maskwearing father (as Mummy looked on). How Alicia then finds him diddling an on-stage stripper with a cherry lollipop (can't help himself, it's in his childhood). Six years later, Gabriel is offered a chance reunion with the lovely Alicia. But Hope is retiring that very night, and when Gabriel shows up to pay his respects, he happens to be wearing a pig mask (went to a costume party, you know), which shocks Hope into revealing herself as . . . Katherine. Too traumatized to keep his rendezvous with Alicia, Gabriel sinks into his current state of picturesque decline. Unpleasant and unpersuasive: politically correct prudery mixed with unbridled sex. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.