I have a confession. Although this story is set in modern times, I kept picturing it set in the late nineteenth century. This is, after all, a retelling of an Oscar Wilde classic. When a modern prop like a g-string was mentioned my mind re-adjusted, but just as quickly all the characters were back in steam-era clothing.
Rick’s updated version has Gary as the doomed man who discovers his own fountain of youth. His early naive then hedonistic exploits drive the story, as drag queen, Henrietta, becomes the closest person to understand what makes Gary tick.
The darker chapters of the tale, especially in the second half of the book, worked for me. Details of debauched parties, of Gary submitting to his darker side and of Henrietta’s observations of what’s going on were, to me, this book’s highlights. Liam’s immature yearnings for Gary made me cringe as I knew someone like him long ago — old enough to know better but somehow not wiser with age. He quickly became the lesser important wheel to this story.
As I know the original story well, it was the second half that felt more fresh. I was in no hurry to keep reading until I reached half way. Also, Gary seemed like an odd name for a main character who’s charismatic. Liam, who is the reserved artist, has the more exotic name. As the tale is told first person by several characters, I had to keep reminding myself that Gary was not the artist and Liam was not the man losing his soul. But this tells you more about me as a reader than it does about the book.
An aspect I particularly liked was the way the writer ended the book. I’m trying not to give a spoiler but at the same time I’m trying to shed light on a certain style. Several days ago a millennial friend told me she was reading H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. I asked her to discuss the ending with me once she finishes. To me, Wells’ novel ends perfectly with the second last chapter. Maybe, as this was originally serialised in a sci-fi magazine, there was a reason to summarise key thoughts in one extra instalment. Why am I rambling on about another novel entirely? Because Rick’s book has the opposite approach. You know the book is finished but the story definitely isn’t. There’s lingering confusion and heartache. I was both satisfied and intrigued.
So in the end, Face Without A Heart reeled me in. I liked the characters from the start but as the years moved forward the story found its own momentum.