This is an amazing first novel by Jonathan Kemp. He tells the stories of three gay men spread over one hundred odd years in London. It starts with Jack Rose in the 1890's where he gets introduced to the world of male whore after becoming a telegram boy. He meets a lot of very interesting characters including Oscar Wilde, who is written brilliantly by Kemp, and he admits in his `Afterword' that he pretty much made up all of the dialogue after extensive research.
Then it moves on to the 1950's where 54 year old repressed gay artist Colin Read leans towards his urges in drawing male model, whore and part time anything that goes, Gregory or `Gore to his friends. Gore opens the door to sexual liberation just enough for Colin to fall through with beguiling yet tragic results.
Then we are brought up to date with David a hedonistic, male whore who embraces the drug fuelled excesses of the 1990's and all the ups and downs that it brings. We have sex, drugs and well art. It is all loosely tied together through two of the central characters and a web of connections through a shared need for gay sex and a moth to flame relationship with London more `theatrical' night spots.
I ruddy loved this, and found it hard to put down, one of those where I was sad it was finished as I wanted more, and that is the best way to leave your audience. For gay fiction this is a must have and I can not recommend highly enough, lets hope Mr Kemp does a follow up soon.
Jonathan Kemp's novel LONDON TRIPTYCH is one of the most beautifully-written erotic novels I have read in years. The only book I can think of that contains such comparable language would be another fine novel of several years ago, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. First of all, the title has a double meaning as it refers to both a painting that one of the characters Colin Read completes as well as the three interwoven stories set in 1895, 1954 and 1998 with the action taking place in London of course. In the section set in 1895 Jack Rose is a callboy who meets Oscar Wilde; we get to see the trial of this literary genius from the eyes of a male prostitute of the time. In the middle section (1954) Colin Read is a sexually repressed artist who paints a beautiful male hustler-type named Gore who says that the only way you can get money is by whoring. In the final section (1998) the narrator is the hedonistic David, who is serving a prison term and addresses his comments to a second person.
These three narratives are connected in many different ways. There is the element of sex for hire in all three of them, the police have a presence, the graphic sex-- some of it kinky, some of it aided by drugs, much of it a bit crowded with the number of players-- and finally the aching theme interwoven in all three, that of love that is not reciprocated. Finally, Mr. Kemp connects the three novels in a way that may surprise you. There is passage after passage of language that rises to the level of poetry. David on founding a lump of lost hash: "Yes, I tested it on my teeth like a jeweller. Yes. You ran over and kissed me, leaving diamonds in my mouth." David on making love in a cemetery with the second-person recipient of his prose: "And the sky was made of amethyst, and all the stars were just like little fish. . . When you pulled away, silver webs appeared between us, which dissolved as soon as they were spun. It was suddenly as bright as day and a shoal of stars swam off into this vast sea of light, leaving trails of bubbles that rose and burst. My hands passed right through you. We walked through each other's bodies like walking through corridors, that led to other corridors and other doors." Colin on his model Gore: "He isn't as dim as he first appeared, just inarticulate, incapable of expressing the complexity of what he feels. How do I know? The rapidity with which his moods change, and the colour of his eyes with them; the world-weariness worn like a garment that ill fits the statuesque demeanour. His intelligence is of a different order--an intelligence of the body, if you will. . . He has a scar on his back, just underneath the right shoulder blade. . . His body tells the story of his life."
Finally it is refreshing-- at least for me-- to read a novel that is not about politically correct gay men, i.e., the lawyer and architect, who just got married with a ceremony on the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine, who have just adopted a child from South Korea and are your best next door neighbors. (In a recent interview Edmund White tells of a distraught student of his who has just broken up with his boy friend, lamenting that this was the man he expected to have children with. To Mr. White and those of us of his generation, this concept is as alien as the Great Wall of China.)
Mr. Kemp in "Afterward: A Government of Whores" writes in several pages of what he is trying to do in this really fine novel connecting all the dots in a narrative that certainly should not be read until you finish the book.
The best compliment I can give this haunting novel is that I would reread it.
on September 4, 2013
At a recent book group of varied-aged gay men, so many of the younger guys bemoaned the plots of novels like AMERICAN STUDIES, DANCER FROM THE DANCE and assorted Edmund White books that depict the difficult earlier and / or current lives of gay men in the pre-Stonewall and latter 20th century eras. Why is everyone so desperate, so unhappy, so lonely? Those young men would feel a bit of the same way about the characters in LONDON TRIPTYCH,
Three at-first-seemingly unrelated autobiographical sketches tie together the hard stories of gay lives that spanned almost the entire century from the late 1890's to the 1970's London....hence the title!
Each unique story has its own plot, often bitter-sweet, even tragic, and they are related in ways that clearly depict the struggles of gay men in the age before liberation made its mark. As someone who has "been around a while" I found the book rather satisfying and well worth the time!
on July 5, 2013
I just happened across this novel. The premise is similar to The Hours. Three stories in different time periods interwoven with three gay male protagonists. Not only are the three protagonists involving but it also sheds light on the changing attitudes toward homosexuality over the years. Highly recommended.
on June 14, 2013
This is a terrific novel, highly recommended. It describes life as lived on the edge of 'polite' society in three different eras. This is definitely not the typical gay romance novel, but for real readers it will be an unexpected pleasure.
on July 10, 2014
In the 1950's, '60s & 70's, fiction or erotica featuring gays risked being banned for indecency unless it was cloaked in a morality tale where all homosexuals developed sad and pathetic lives in natural retribution for their proclivities. Troubled characters would develop sordid relationships around some criminal scheme featuring lots of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, anonymous sex and ultimately, jail or desperate loneliness.
In London Triptych, we have pretty much what is described above. Three hustlers from from different points in recent history tell their sad and predictable tales. The stories intersect in an extremely insignificant manner but for what purpose? To illustrate how all decisions made by all homosexuals end badly and in the same horrible place?
True, this book does include a few lines which indicate the author is speaking from an attitude of "boy, it used to be bad". But he shows nothing about what is good and how decent productive lives are lived by many many gay people today.
The pulp novels of the past, which were forced to adopt the cautionary tale when homosexuals were included, at least featured some scenes of red hot sex. After all, that's what the intended audience hoped to read between the covers. But that's not here.
As I come to the end of this review, I am wondering why I ever intended to give this miserable recreation of personal desperation two stars. The act of writing has cleared my head and I am comfortable giving this book just one. There is so much excellent gay fiction around today and superb books from the last few decades as well. Read them.
on April 26, 2014
I can't believe how naïve I was in former times, selecting books to read based (at least partially) on the universally laudatory comments on dust jackets. Now I sample Amazon reader comments, paying particular attention to books whose cumulative reviews come in at four stars or higher. Beyond the stars, the reviews tell me whether it's the "kind" of book I might like. For example, I like mysteries, but not thrillers, and reading the reviews gives me a better handle not just on how awesome the book is in general but also whether the content will appeal. The only flaw in this system occurs when there are relatively few reviews. This happened with "London Triptych," with only 19 reviews, most of them five stars. I was so convinced this would be a five-star book that I overlooked the limited response. Not that the book was bad; in fact, it was very good indeed. But I anticipated it would be the best read in years, even beyond five stars, and was a bit disappointed. One reviewer said it was better than Andre Aciman's "Call Me by Your Name," and that threw me into fits of joy, as in my mind, "Call..." is the most erotic, titillating, sensitive book I've ever read. "London Triptych" features a lot of down-to-earth gay sex, but the sex in "Call Me by Your Name" is mostly in the mind of the major character. The reader is constantly on edge, wondering what will happen, if actual overt sex will occur. Even more important, the agonies and ecstasies of the protagonist are so masterfully done that the reader literally feels his pain. That happens to a certain extent with Colin, the 1950s artist in "London Triptych," and that section reminded me somewhat of the Aciman novel. But it did not have the same wrenching intensity of "Call Me by Your Name."
Another reviewer panned the part that included Oscar Wilde. I beg to differ, as that was one of the best features of "London Triptych." I knew certain things about Oscar Wilde's career, but thought this segment filled him out as a real person beyond the caricature I've had in my mind. Another strong point was the comparison of both the public attitude toward gays and the actions of gays themselves over this hundred-year period. We have definitely made progress during the past century, although lives of gays are not yet without special challenges.
In general I'm encouraged to read more from Jonathan Kemp, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend "London Triptych" to friends, both straight and gay.
on August 8, 2014
This novel fascinated me throughout. Just like another reviewer here, I had to ration my reading to make it last. This book thoroughly resonated with parts of my life. I am a former prostitute, a former married gay male, and a former artist. These stories weren't my story, but they DO have a certain "Everyman" quality to them. The first-person narratives in the book made the stories truly poignant and accessible.
I have always felt a close connection to Oscar Wilde, a character in the book. Jonathan has vividly recreated him. Although I am thoroughly acquainted with his story, I still was moved to tears. Not unlike the tears I shed for him at his grave in Paris.
Never before have I read a novel that opened up my creativity this way. As I read the book a novel with related themes came pouring out of me. I hope that the same thing might happen to other readers.
There is so much in this book for you to enjoy. I highly recommend that you buy it.
on March 19, 2016
Rude, explicit, fascinating look at three generations of gay life in London. There's sex aplenty - not for the faint of heart, or those not interested in the myriad forms of gay sexual coupling. The portrait of a molly-house, a male bordello of the 19th century, is delicious and dirty. The mid-20th century tale is both much more romantic and much more sad, as the consequences of being gay in post-war England are made explicitly clear. The swinging scene of contemporary London gay nightlife is fresh and liberating, despite the drugs and the drinking and the prospects of disease. The stories jump back and forth in time, in a manner that is both clear and wonderfully engaging. A terrific read for those with an interest in the vagaries of gay life, as well as a taste for prurient adventures.
on September 9, 2015
This book is really a historical piece describing three eras of gay life in London. I think the author did a great job and put a lot of research into being accurate - creating a fictional piece that is nonetheless true to the facts and mores of the times. From the afterword, I've chosen to read a few of the other books referenced from the time.