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This is a very readable first-person study of the love between Oliver, a privileged artist in his late 30s and John, a wannabe writer in his late teens. John's thoughtlessness and lack of self-awareness leads him to make a mistake of tragic proportions, one which adversely affects nearly all the main characters of the book. It was first published in 1981 at a time when novels dealing with gay relationships were becoming - not before time - more positive and sexually explicit, yet it feels rather old-fashioned, partly because it is set in the 1950s, more because it reflects the kind of gay novels that appeared in an earlier generation. In order to get published, these novels tended to depict gay relationships as troubled and doomed - one of the main protagonists was sure to die - and unhappily, this novel falls into the same category. The central relationship between the two men, around which the whole book is built, is flawed and tragic, leading to depression, guilt and remorse. That said, it deals with it with honesty and sensitivity and is very engaging.

The two central characters are mismatched in age, in experience, in sexual orientation (John is bisexual), in sensibility, in background, in their ability to love. Once John, the teenager, makes his fatal mistake, not realising how hard it will hit his former lover, the scene is set for tragedy - though by no means inevitably. After this, it becomes a tale of disintegration, grief and remorse. The first two parts of the book work well, but it's let down by the third part, a confused and lengthy coda that attempts to find redemption in religious visions and Christian morality, relying on psychology that feels unconvincing.

Also, perhaps in the interests of 'taste', or to comply with a publisher's timidity, or the author not wishing to be too 'out' himself, there is nothing here which expresses the characters' lust or sexual desire, no descriptions of love-making, no passion. It's as if these vital qualities, which drew the protagonists together, simply don't exist. Compare that with some of the explicit novels coming out of the USA at the time - and Alan Hollinghurst's first novel 'The Swimming Pool Library', for instance - and we see what a throwback this novel is. (Or, this being a first-person account, are we to infer that John's interest in sex was either non-existent or infantile - which seems unlikely?)

Yet for all it's gaps, its patchy quality, its traditional flavour, its plain prose, for all the limitations of the first-person account, this book was worth reprinting. It has narrative drive, well-drawn characters and is a novel that takes gay love seriously.
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on 4 February 2013
John Wilmot is a beautiful youth who catches the eye and then the heart of a successful artist, Oliver Cambourne. Wilmot is a man with eye fixed steadily on the main chance and moves effortlessly from the life of bookshop clerk to one in which expensive gifts, spur-of-the-moment travels, and the Chelsea Arts Ball are a matter of course. After spending less than a year with Cambourne, he spots an even better opportunity. He grabs it, and the consequences of his doing so leave many people, sooner or later, feeling shattered.

In the long denouement we see Wilmot being denied, and denying himself of, the assurance of a life funded lavishly by others. Gradually, though, he appropriates ever larger bits of Cambourne's past, and the book's ending leaves him with the chance to work his way back into the good graces of yet another benefactor. That's a cynical reading; the author of the introduction to the novel sees Wilmot redeeming himself in this part of the book, and so might you. It's just as likely that Benatar's intention was somewhere between the two.

This sort of ambiguity is one of the things I particularly like about the novel; so are some very well-drawn characters; the understated way in which Wilmot lays claim to first Cambourne's trinkets, then his actions, and then more still; and, similarly, the slow revelation of a major character's (Elizabeth's) true nature and motives. In fact, the story in general is told with a refreshing subtlety--I can easily imagine other writers playing up the drama in it and in the process making the story itself feel implausible. A few minor drawbacks caught my notice: There's very occasionally a slight awkwardness, mostly in diction but once or twice in phrasing, that suggest that the novel might have benefitted from one final polishing, and though Wilmot does seem as blithely oblivious as ever of others' feelings till very late in the book, his financial sacrifice and his reactions near the end make it almost seem as if Benatar couldn't make up his own mind about whether he had in the end reformed or simply regrouped. I'm glad of there being no clear-cut explanation, but there's a sense of to-and-fro'ing rather than a consistently smooth presentation of Wilmot's behaviour in the last part of the story.

A very good book, and if you like it try Benatar's Wish Her Safe at Home, which to me is even better.
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on 22 March 2010
I just love this book and can't begin to do it justice but I promised to review it, so here goes.

I also first met Stephen in Waterstones and bought Wish Her Safe at Home. On the strength of that book, I have bought others & will definitely buy more.

The first time I read The Man on the Bridge, I raced through it because I was so captivated by the characters, I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Then I went back and read it again more slowly, because Stephen Benatar writes so beautifully you do yourself and the book a disservice not to take time over it. I saw it on my shelf the other day & thought about reading it again, it is one of those books you can keep reading & re-reading and get more from each time.

The Man on the Bridge is brilliantly written, the characters are fascinating and the storyline develops in unexpected ways. I don't want to give away any of the plot but if you like books that are a bit different, have some depth, and are not just more formulaic pulp fiction, you will enjoy this. The Man on the Bridge is my favourite of Stephen Benatar's books so far - read it! You won't regret it.
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on 13 June 2009
I was approached by this most affable man in Waterstones - not an uncommon occurrence as it turns out - and directed to view his books. Somewhat to my surprise this book jumped out at me and I thoroughly enjoyed it - I wish it had been longer thus allowing the characters a little more room to develop, but it was astute and interesting - a welcome change from the sea of 'chick-lit' available everywhere.
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on 23 January 2014
I preferred this to `Wish her safe at home'. Part Two completely gripped me and Part One was fine if you are in the mood for slowish development and old-fashioned, erudite dialogue. The short Part Three disappointed me, swerving into concerns that didn't interest, convince or move me; for me the book would have been better stopping at the brilliant end of Part Two.
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on 6 January 2016
A terrific book. Wonderful, sparkling use of language. Main charcter was an awful user of people, but he did lelarn - too late - who he loved and why he loved, so I think of it ultimately as a love story. Enjoyed every page.
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