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History of a Pleasure Seeker Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 7, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In fictionalized early twentieth-century Amsterdam, Piet Barol, son of a middle-class paper-pusher, secures a job with the plush Vermeulen-Sickerts family as private tutor to a brilliant but cripplingly obsessive young boy. Progress with his pupil is slow, but hot baths, fine vestments inherited from the master of the house, and pointed attention from the master’s wife soon have the handsome, charming, and absurdly lucky Piet employing the tastes instilled in him by his late, Parisian mother and assuming the high-society role he’d long planned for. Historical references abound—hotel tycoon Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts is deep into building a tony New York property, his first American venture, when the U.S. market collapses—and they are transporting and evocative. This bildungsroman is as smart as it is seductive, and seduction—by finery, older women, successful men, and aged brandies—in the novel is rampant. Readers will savor final scenes aboard the gilded ocean-liner Eugenie and welcome the undercurrent that perhaps Piet’s good fortune isn’t luck at all but a lesson that pleasure exists for those who seek it. --Annie Bostrom


“The book charms as much as its main character does, and should have readers eagerly awaiting the sequel.”
The Gay and Lesbian Review

“Beautifully observed, perfectly paced, genuinely sexy, and in the end, a terrifically fun read. Mason’s ability to inhabit the inner voices of the servants and those they serve lends the book a rich realism.”
 —The Boston Globe
“An engaging picaresque romp . . . funny, touching, and arousing . . . Mason does a stellar job of creating a particular time and place.” 
Edmonton Journal

“A masterpiece. Like Henry James on Viagra. Not only gripping, but brilliantly arranges that the imagined world of Maarten and Jacobina’s household sits entirely within Amsterdam of the belle epoque. Piet was wonderfully drawn—rogueish and yet wholly sympathetic.”
—Alex Preston, author of This Bleeding City
“A ripping literary romp about the adventures of a dashing, athletic and sexually ambiguous young man.”
The Evening Standard
“Hugely accomplished . . . Rich with period detail and characterised by pitch-perfect dialogue and a cast of carefully drawn characters, it explores themes of ambition, fidelity and class, and ratchets up the tension as our young hero walks a knife-edge between social and financial success and total ruin.”
“This bildrungsroman is as smart as it is seductive . . . Readers will savor final scenes aboard the gilded ocean-liner Eugenie and welcome the undercurrent that perhaps Piet’s good fortune isn’t luck at all but a lesson that pleasure exists for those who seek it.”
"As if plucked from a patisserie display case, Mr. Mason’s novel is a gorgeous confection."
—The New York Times

History of a Pleasure Seeker
“is the best new work of fiction to cross my desk in many moons. Mason . . . has written an unabashed romance, a classic . . . There is an almost magical quality to it that had me thoroughly engaged from first page to last . . . Mason has an appealingly playful quality that has never been more evident than it is here; he likes all of his characters and mostly gives them what they deserve; he conjures up early-20th-century Amsterdam and, more briefly, New York, with confidence and exceptional descriptive powers.”
—The Washington Post
“Mason writes in a beautifully turned, classical style that yields pleasing phrases and psychological complexity…  Genuinely moving.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“It’s hard to imagine a better connoisseur of late 19th-century Europe’s gilded delights than Piet Barol, the bisexual hero at the heart of Richard Mason’s witty fourth novel, History of a Pleasure Seeker . . . Think Balzac, but lighter and sexier – an exquisitely laced corset of a novel with a sleek, modern zipper down the side.”
—Marie Claire
“Richard Mason is the rare novelist who can write a very sexy book that never quite turns prurient . . . This book about pleasure is a provocative joy.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine. Find of the Month.
“Highly recommended as an engaging portrait of an individual, a family, and time . . . At once windswept historical romance and focused social commentary.”
—Library Journal, starred review
Some of the month’s best fiction . . . An alluring stranger liberates a wealthy Dutch family’s libido in Richard Mason’s Belle Époque Valentine, History of a Pleasure Seeker.”
“Delicious . . . as polished as the Vermeulen-Sickerts' silver, a literary guilty pleasure.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Mason displays a sharp eye and a wit to rival Oscar Wilde.”
—Kirkus Reviews
“The operative word . . . is pleasure, which comes in abundance to both the reader and the seductively handsome Piet Barol. Mason evokes . . . delightful period detail . . . [and] writes with sensuality and humor.”
—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307599477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307599476
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,355,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Young and charismatic Piet Barol is a hedonist with a purpose. He's turned pleasure into an art, like a jaunty Epicurean. In 1907, he leaves behind his austere beginnings in South Holland for the splendor of the rich and modern, via employment in a powerful family in Amsterdam. Although raised in lower-middle-class surroundings, his Parisienne mother imparted gentility and musical refinement to Piet before her premature death. His sensuous lips, striking physique, keen blue eyes and cultivated, easy charm ignites passion in others, and he is as resourceful as he is alluring.

With confidence and authority, Piet secures a position in the Vermeulen-Sickerts' household as ten-year-old Egbert's private tutor. Egbert's agoraphobia presents a challenge for Piet, who is paid well to teach and to hopefully "cure" him. From the moment he steps foot in their grand house, class distinctions are noted and deftly exploited by the agile and ambitious new tutor.

This promise of the title delivers, and the sex is candid. If you are turned off by explicit sexuality, you may want to reconsider this book. However, Mason writes with a poised pen and a light, poetic touch in this romp of rumps. It's ripe, but not vulgar, and he has a knack for regulating the sexual exuberance. In lesser hands, it would be meretricious and puerile, but he harnesses the narrative's carnal energy with a droll and nutty bite. The bi-curious Piet jettisons the limited definition of heterosexuality. He is a card-carrying lover of women, but he has a sensuous appreciation for the subtle bonds of carefree, liberated men.

This savvy novel of class and manners displays Piet's acumen for blurring divides and situating himself as a "guest" of the house.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel opens in Amsterdam in 1907 and is divided into two parts, with the first part comprising about two-thirds of the relatively short novel (less than 300 pages).

In Part One, we see the main character, Piet Barol -- a good looking, recent college graduate with multilingual, musical, and artistic skills -- charming his way to employment with one of Amsterdam's richest, but also socially progressive, families as a live-in tutor to the family's only male child, Egbert, who is 10 years old and smart, but has quite a handful of psychological afflictions, including the fear of stepping out of the house for even just a moment. Barol's job is to further Egbert's education in the languages, music, and arts, as well as to coax him out of the house so that the future heir may partake in family outings.

Barol is first interviewed by Egbert's mother, Jacobina, who takes an immediate liking to -- and lust for -- him. Maarten, Jacobina's religious and now eccentrically celibate husband (the reason for this is explained in the novel), is similarly impressed. Barol gets hired and meets Egbert's beautiful, adult, and unmarried sisters, Constance and Louisa, as well as the household servants, two of whom -- the tall footman Didier and the slightly creepy, older butler Mr. Blok -- develop an immediate homosexual crush on him.

Against this backdrop of palpable sexual tensions that he immediately recognizes as favoring him, Barol intends to keep the cards he holds to himself and to play them adroitly. So it seems that the game is his to lose, but will he succeed or will he stumble?

In Part Two, we find Barol aboard a ship bound for South Africa. Soon after boarding, he realizes he has made a big mistake.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The fact that this novel is framed as a sort of journal presumably excuses the author from having to produce a single arcing narrative, which is good because History of a Pleasure Seeker has a decidedly episodic feel.

The first episode, in which our handsome, charismatic hero, Piet Barol, becomes tutor at the home of a well-to-do Dutch family at the turn of the 20th century, is definitely the most complete and entertaining of the episodes. Piet's challenge is to navigate the social and sexual hazards of Amsterdam's upper class while simultaneously liberating his pupil from the horrific grip of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This part of the story is feels fully fleshed out and is rather engaging.

The second episode, in which our hero travels to Cape Town on a luxury liner, is where things start to fall apart. The author seems to believe that providing characters with backstories automatically endows them psychological depth, but despite many dull pages of explication, the characters in this episode remain stubbornly plastic and unconvincing. The plots/themes that are introduced in this section (how will Barol's guilt over what happened in Amsterdam affect him? Will he ever acknowledge Didier's tenderness? Will he ever pay for the consequences of his actions?) feel contrived and uncomfortably unresolved.

And then comes episode three, in which our hero - after hundreds of pages of resisting love and temptation - succumbs to both all at once, for no particular reason, over the span of about 3 pages, to a character who qualifies as "minor" at best, which just feels preposterous.
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