In 1900, bored, wealthy Bostonian Perceval Fain finds himself in the French colony of Algeria, amusing himself with a number of local men, including members of the French military. Falling under the spell of his exotic desert surroundings, unfulfilled by his hedonistic lifestyle, Perceval meets an impoverished English artist, Preston.
At first the two men dislike each other and seem to have nothing in common. Almost against their wills, though, an attraction develops between them, fulfilling an enigmatic prophecy.
Review by Erastes
Well, going by the cover I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this–the cover won’t affect the score of the book, but shoving two headless six-packs over a desert doesn’t cut it these days–perhaps four years ago it might, but I think readers demand more, even for an ebook. The cover also doesn’t make it clear that it’s a historical, and may even put off the sort of reader who would actually really like this book, as it screams “gay porn” and not much else.
And that would be a shame, because this is quite a good historical romp. I use the word romp advisedy, because there’s a lot of sex in it, although I’d probably say that it’s not gratuitious, each sex scene does add something to the plot and characterisation, even if it’s only what a character thinks at the end of it.
I have to say that Fain was a fascinating character. A Dorian Gray without a portrait, a man who has decided to do pretty much exactly what he likes and has the money and prestige to back it up and to protect himself from the punishment the law may chuck at him. I liked particularly that he didn’t get away with this scot-free, that he was not received by polite society and that he was considered decadent and immoral and many other things by the American upper-classes. Think James’s Washington Square, then insert a slightly reined in Dorian Gray.
He’s accompanied everywhere by his lovely bit of rough, his valet, confidente and sometime bed-warmer Tommy who is himself a great character and if the author were to write any more about either of these I would happily read it. Tommy and Perceval (shortened to Perce, which annoyed me throughout, as Perce very much (for an English person) smacks of working class–the cat in “This Happy Breed” was called Perce) love each other and at first I thought that was the focus but their love, although real, is more friends with benefits, and the romance element came from elsewhere.
That pretty much sums Perce up, for most of the book. He’s loose-living, carefree and although he likes everyone he goes to bed with, or he wouldn’t go to bed with them, he’s never really formed a lasting attachment. He doens’t think that he feels the lack of this. He’s of the opinion that men aren’t naturally monogamous with other men and nothing that happens in the book convinces him otherwise, even at the end.
I’m in two minds about the level of OK Homo in the book. Granted that Perce makes sure that doors are locked and he usually has his trysts in places where he won’t be discovered, but there are several times when people are talking in public about male nudity, male attraction and male/male sex–for example Tommy and the painter Preston at the breakfast table. The author has been clever to set it in an out of the way town in Algeria, and that part of Africa was a magnet for gay men for decades because of the liberal attitude, but it’s all a bit TOO liberal, and male sex available just about everywhere. This, and the lack of any women characters, makes a little over-weighted in the OK Homo department.
It also didn’t seem to know exactly what it wanted to be. Half of the book was happy to be a good old sexual romp, with Perce leaping from partner to partners to orgy with gay abandon and the sex pretty well graphically described. This was fine, because that’s what I was expecting, something on the sexual level of The Back Passage (althugh without the tongue in cheek humour). But half way through the sex scenes were sketchily described along the lines of “they undressed and when they had both orgasmed…” which left me feeling a little cheated as I had thought this was supposed to be more of a one-handed read all the way through.
Everyone’s nice too. With his activities and lusts there needed to be some conflict, and it shows how much I enjoyed the story that I didn’t realise there wasn’t any conflict at all until after I had finished it. Everything comes easy to Perce, and with his looks and money that’s not particularly surprising, but it’s all too easy. Every man falls into bed with him without even being heterosexual, his gaydar is never off, everyone’s his friend, his servants are loyal and nothing bad happens.
However, considering that I didn’t even notice this until after I’d finished and had time to mull it over, I’m not going to mark it down much for that.
I think it could have done with a tougher editor as there are times when the passive voice is used pretty much exclusively “there was a and there was this and there was and it was and he was” etc etc and there are moments of head-hopping although they aren’t rife.
But all in all, a good edition to anyone’s library, and I encourage you to give this a go.
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Filed under: 1900's, 4 stars, Africa, Fiction, Graeme Roland, Reviews | 2 Comments »