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Nocturnes for the King of Naples Paperback – July 15, 1988
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"There are few novels which defy reviewing. They are the ones that provide us with unique reading experiences, which become valuable additions to understanding of the world and ourselves. Edmund White's new novel is one of these...he has embodied his story in some of the finest writing to be found in recent American fiction." --Doris Grumbach, Washington Post Book World
"Nocturnes for the King of Naples is a baroque invention of quite startling brilliance and intensity." --Gore Vidal
"Qhite is unquestionably the foremost American gay novelist." --Newsweek
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"A moment before the barge's beam invaded the cathedral we were isolated men at prayer, that man by the font (rainwater stagnant in the lid of a barrel), and this one in a side chapel (the damp vault), that pair of celebrants holding up a flame near the dome, those communicants telling beads or buttons pierced through denim, the greater number shuffling through, ignoring everything in their search for the god among us."
With such poetic writing, the gender of the characters is largely irrelevant. Each of the eight chapters is in a different key, a different color. One is a pastoral evocation of childhood, another a series of nights of make-believe in a sleeping theater, yet another a bizarre houseparty in Southern Spain out of Buñuel or Fellini. The common theme is loss: lament for a love too lightly abandoned, and the unconsoling postludes of other lovers. For White was writing in 1978, before AIDS altered gay lives for ever. But this is not the physical show-and-tell of Colm Toíbín or Alan Hollingsworth; what White anatomizes so exquisitely are the emotions.
There is little plot, though gradually some hints begin to emerge. The time is not modern; perhaps between the wars? The narrator is a young man of good family, his famous playboy father departed to hold court abroad, his mother ultimately unable to cope. The lost lover is famous also, older, richer, an artist of some sort; people recognize him in restaurants. Most characters are American, though much of the action takes place in European cities; I had thought Naples, or Rome, or Alexandria; I now think somewhere in Greece; perhaps all of these or none. My only serious problem (just enough to take off a star) is that while the individual chapters are brilliant, there is little through line binding them together, or determining why there should be eight rather than seven or nine. But oh, they are good!
It's by no means an easy read, and I admit that I had to re-start after 20 pages because I was trying to zip through such a short novel. This novel deserves to be read slowly so that the words and images can make an impact on you, otherwise you will miss something.
Edmund White writes novels that tell of the world he lives in in New York and in Paris, and he has been heralded world wide for his talent. He advocates an unbridled sexuality. We have fought over this point and I love his writing despite his stance. Despite all his free love manifestos, he wrote a book that details that passion he felt for his past, for his past lovers and for his father. This is it and you wil never find a more engaging, moving tale of the search for love and affection.
every now and then, and always get drawn in to its
poetic and evocative story. It's unique and haunting
and began my longtime fascination with Mr. White's
writing. This one is very different from his later,
more popular novels in its style - but the elaborate
prose (some would say baroque) does not obscure the
insights and observations.