Gilbert Adair, Love and Death on Long Island
This fictional memoir of a love affair between a defunct ageing writer and Ronnie Bostock, a handsome young actor is an engaging study of an obsession bordering on madness. The reader soon realises that the sophisticated and highly articulate narrator has nothing in common with the rising star, a young pin-up whose image appears on sundry teen magazines as a role model. In fact Ronnie's picture on the stills outside a Hampstead cinema becomes the seed of a monstrous passion that drives the narrator to fly to Long Island to meet his love object.
This short novel is beautifully paced, as the narrator intellectualises his physical yearning for the boy: `Was I alone in tracing beneath the conventional surface a timeless and universal ideal, an almost supernatural radiance of pure heart, of innocent spirit and of sun-inflamed flesh?' The details about the youth's ripe redness of the lower lip, the way he wiped sweat from his brow and even `the inside cup of his elbow' show how far the obsession has gone, but we are as yet only a third of the way through the book; the pair have yet to meet, and, although Ronnie knows nothing of his latest fan, a meeting is inevitable.
The style Adair adopts is deliberately pedantic and meticulous. In some sentences the distance between subject and eventual object can exceed 50 words. Precision and accuracy are essential to the narrator's fidelity to his feelings. He is the archetypal dilettante, with a sublime contempt for the world around him; the fake and tawdry trappings of the entertainment industry, for instance, allow him ample opportunity for invective, as do the clichés of the press. Yet when the banalities of gossip columnists are lavished on Ronnie, the lover is delighted: `that he would kiss a girl on their first date "only if she made it clear she wanted me to" and that his greatest ambition was to play in a movie opposite Madonna. `Had he ever been in love? "Who hasn't?" Pet hate? `Designer stubble.' And his secret unspoken fantasy? `To go to bat for the Mets.'
Embracing the mandarin style of a Henry James and the self-referential qualities of a Marcel Proust, Love and Death on Long Island is a classical display of fine writing in miniature format. Overall it's a haunting account of romantic love, the supreme idiocy that flesh is heir to.