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on 23 November 1999
Edmund White captures the reader's attention early on when the 12-year-old Kevin takes the lead after dark. The physical side of young love is described in detail here with tenderness and realism. Kevin's remoteness (ie no kissing) keeps the relationship one sided and one can imagine that the young Kevin forgets all about it once each session is over whereas our hero gets more and more worried about his deep feelings. As the book progresses, the encounters become random and are kept in the background, yet the soul-searching becomes more open. White captures the confusion of adolescent sexuality well, yet the final betreyal somehow doesn't resolve the dilemma...
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on 7 August 2008
A reviewer of A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White is presented with a number of problems, In the paraphrased words of one of the book's characters, there may be a lot in the wash, but eventually not much to hang out, and this, by the end of the book, largely summed up what it had delivered. Be reassured, however, that the process of reading A Boy's Own Story is a delight from start to finish. Edmund White's style is quite beautiful, full of complex allusions, superb characterisation and, above all, masterful description. Every character springs to life off the page. If only collectively or individually they had more to offer...

A Boy's Own Story is an adolescent's discovery and realisation of his own homosexuality. The book promises a lot of sex and, sure enough, it both begins and ends with explicit encounters. Throughout the remainder, however, the sex seems to be more in the mind than in the experience. It appears that Edmund White's adult recollection of his teenage dilemmas could have been subject to the embellishment of later reflection. Repeatedly the author stretches time to explore the detail of options whenever the boy of the title is presented with a dilemma. These were surely the voices of later years speaking through an ostensibly reconstructed, but surely imagined past. The boy always spoke eloquently about his choices, considered options in detail, but perhaps not convincingly. One of the more engaging aspects of coming of age sagas is how innocence is portrayed and how its conquest is engineered. In A Boy's Own Story one feels that Edmund White wants to deny that he was ever innocent, or at least suggest that he would ever admit it. And so a spark that could have lit up the glowing prose never quite ignited.

When the book first appeared over twenty years ago, the fact that it did appear in its explicit form, apparently denying the guilt that oozes off every page, might itself have been worthy of note. Twenty years on it now reads as merely dated, but still it reads beautifully thanks to the author's supreme skill with words and expression. The issues that might previously have rendered it remarkable have, however, long since cooled, so now the reader must approach the book either as it is, as an autobiography, or alternatively in historical terms. The book, however, cannot sustain the latter approach.

I will now certainly seek out other books by Edmund White, but in the case of A Boy's Own Story I am tempted to conclude that though writers have to be self-obsessed, when that neurosis is turned completely inward, it raises new barriers that can exclude the reader. Hence the gloss. Hence the sheen of the whiter than white washing that proves to be just half a load.
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on 23 May 2014
First published in 1983, the opening volume of Edmund White's three-part autobiographical novel sequence made its way onto my re-reading list after an article in POLARI, the gay online magazine. This novel in the form of a memoir deals with the 1950s boyhood of his unnamed protagonist, watching his parent' marriage dissolve, moving from the country to the city with his mother and sister, beginning to discover a love of books and realizing that he is gay. The narrator is a hopeless romantic: after some experimental sex with a fellow teenager "I'd already imagined him as a sort of husband." And yet whilst still in his teens he buys his first hustler.

Flashbacks to his childhood give his early years some of the magic of (oh dear) a fairy-tale. A beautifully written chapter about summer camp morphs delectably from the pastoral to the erotic. There's a pleasing humour in his effort to impress a glamorous jock at high school: Tommy wants help in a debate on Sartre's philosophy but our hero is privately contemplating more mundane issues - 'How low should I let my jeans ride?' The book's long final chapter, in a boarding school, introduces a few more interesting characters, including a priggish priest and a disturbed, disturbing boy who thinks and dresses like a Nazi. In the last few pages this rambling character study springs some surprises of the kind associated with a more conventionally plotted novel; I would have preferred the whole book to have this degree of structure.

White's theme is, essentially, the experience of growing up 'different' in a world where everyone else is fitting in, but he clearly set out to craft a literary masterpiece, a book about tormented youth that would out-Salinger Salinger. Noticeably under the influence of several French writers (Gide, Cocteau, Genet - even Proust), White writes a rich florid prose that is often glorious to read but occasionally hard to digest. 'I was living in shadow between two radiances, the mythic past and the mythic future'; is a sentence like that meant to be satirical, or is it merely pretentious? Tough call. There are scenes that go on too long, and scenes, like the one in a brothel, that aren't long enough. The best scenes are those with touches of humour and the moments when his hero has an Everyman obstacle to surmount that echoes the times when the average 'middle-brow' gay reader may have felt that he was the only gay in the village.

After the 'break-through' gay novels of the 1960s - THE CITY AND THE PILLAR, CITY OF NIGHT, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN - A BOY'S OWN STORY belongs to a different canon. Despite a handful of not-too-coy, not-too-lurid sex-scenes White's book has a lot more style than substance. Can a book be too literary? If the author was trying to be America's answer to Genet and Gide, he certainly landed on target with A BOY'S OWN STORY. A book to admire rather than one to savour and enjoy.

[REviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]
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on 25 May 2014
This novel has a place in history, as one of the first explicitly gay novels. That's about it.

The style is unoriginal, actually, dry, anodyne, clinical. Emotions are not conveyed well. Even sex is described as just that, sex. With a physical rather than emotional perspective. Not much is said about the psychological and emotional experience of growing up, let alone growing up gay. It's a matter-of-fact novel, very impersonal, despite the fact that it is allegedly based on White's own life. Well, if that is his life, he lived his life 'from a distance.'

Shop around, there are much more intense, emotionally dense, psychologically deep gay novels, much, much more.

This pales into insignificance compared to some other gay novels, including one amazing recent one that may even be the first gay Booker. Shop around, I say.
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on 10 October 2000
If for nothing else, read this book for the beauty of its writing. The story ought to fall into the coming-of-age category, yet even here it is better than the average. It is told with poignancy, humour and not over the top. But the style takes this book into great modern literature. How often can a damned good read also be so well written.
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on 6 March 2016
This is also a very interesting format for writing a novel. It is the author's life story, but told in a novel format. This makes it most interesting to read through.
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on 28 January 2014
The boy in question desperately wants to be 'normal' but is irresistibly drawn to other boys. Lack of closeness to his father helps to explain his desire for an older man to love him. Despite the lack of a strong narrative, I found this book very engaging, probably because it was so convincing on an emotional level.
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on 29 May 2010
As a person who has dealt with alot of the issues brought up in this book it was a pleasure to read. The story line in effecting and really draws you in. Anyone who has been thorugh, going through or just wants an insight into the world of a person growing up with such issues it is definitly worth a read.
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on 4 June 2008
The story is readable but doesn't seem to have any point other than taking snapshots of different points in the boy's life. The characters from the overly long chapters are reasonably built but then do not re-appear which was frustrating.
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on 23 December 2013
I loved this book! I recommend it, and as a non native english speaker, it is really easy to read for any foreign people!
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