Top positive review
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moving, poignant and necessary
on 22 August 2010
A pacy, vivid, eminently readable and extremely accomplished literary fiction debut. Three entwined narratives unfurl, revealing the lives of three gay Londoners, spanning a century of gay history. The narrative twists around the dark, seamy undercurrent of London's gay life that is a curious constant, even as society and its attitudes change, conjuring up a very different portrait of London and the twentieth century gay experience from anything else out there. London Triptych is highly charged with strong emotion and a powerful, raw sexuality.
Kemps draws very real characters with very real flaws and deep, visible wounds who are fully human in all their unreliability and weakness and very capable of acting in a frustratingly self-destructive way. Each character's story is ultimately a profound tragedy and yet these are not characters to be pitied, but who live their lives unabashedly and truthfully to themselves, for good or bad and with pride or shame. They react organically to the lives they live in, accepting the choices they have made, in some cases, and railing against them in others. Each trades to some extent in combinations of sex, money and power and each within the context of their place in the society of their time. Jack manages to cling to a sweet, blind and hopeless optimism in the face of obvious disaster; Colin is weighed down by a quietly terrified, claustrophobic inaction and meekly accepts a life unlived, while David's confrontational hedonism and decadence leads to a spiralling descent into an inevitable and terrible destruction born of the obsession, frustration, fear, anger, bitterness, love and regret that have shaped his existence.
Vivid and uncompromising characterisation and a subtly elegant, artfully drawn structure remind of the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, Rohinton Mistry and David Mitchell and belie a talent that will surely rank Kemp high among his literary fiction-writing peers. Kemp's is a wonderful and necessary addition to the canon of modern gay literature that should transcend the gay-writing tag and he should proudly sit alongside Toibin, Waters, Hollinghurst et al among the very best writers of British (and Irish!) literary fiction today.