‘London Triptych’ by Jonathan Kemp

I don’t rave about books on my blog, yet there’s been quite a few I’ve loved. So I decided I’m long overdue in sharing what I’ve been reading.

Several books ago I picked up a copy of Jonathan Kemp’s London Triptych. I’d read some reviews in the past, so when the novel was begging me to pick it up and buy it, I headed its call. It’s probably the last book I’ve read that I couldn’t put down.

Arsenal Pulp Press

This is a slow burn tale, or more to the point, three slow burning tales. But each carries the same dramatic arc as each chapter flicks back and forth between three characters in three timelines.

We first meet overly sensitive Colin, trapped in fear in the 1950’s. He’s a man who has suppressed his homosexuality, even though he grew up aware it was there. His backstory, as he carefully shares it with us, is heart breaking. A marriage of convenience and a lack of any type of sex life lead him close to breaking point when he finds a young nude model to paint.

Colin’s misplaced sexual exploitative years come to the surface as this middle aged man tries to make sense of his desires, without the help of gay friends or life experience. He is equally aroused and repulsed by his own thoughts toward the younger man he desires, as he is about his own sexuality.

Next we meet David, a man in jail in 1998, recalling his life during London’s punk/new wave/new romantic period. He lives in a time when being gay wasn’t easy, but it is definitely easier for him than it is for the other two characters in this book. So why is David in jail?

As I said, these are slow, yet captivating, stories, and as David tells his tale over the course of the novel, we find that love led him to his fate. How, why and whom are gradually and satisfyingly exposed.

Then we have Jack, the sassy rent boy from the 1890’s. Out of all these characters, Jack is blessed with a network that enforces his identity without guilt. He is a young man with the world, or London at least, at his feet. He lives in decadent times, as long as he has someone like Oscar Wilde to foot the bill. But like the others, Jack too falls from grace.

Jonathan Kemp

Colin, David and Jack are three distinct gay men, all at a different age and all shaped by the times they live in. Yet all of us can relate to their social influences and their inner turmoil, even when their own pain is hard for them to pinpoint. At one point in our lives, we too have been equally broken.

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