on 4 November 2004
I imagine that most of Corlett's readers -- like his characters -- are gay.
I'm not -- in fact, I didn't buy this book, I found it on a train. Nor have I ever felt any inclination to read a 'gay' novel in the past. But having put aside my predudices (yes, sorry, they are still in there somewhere despite my ostensible belief that they are unjust and unfounded) I was instantly drawn to his writing and found his characters, and the situation they found themselves in, absolutely compelling.
To gay guys, this must be a godsend. To straight guys, read it how you would any other love story: you'll find it better than most. This is an outstanding book and one that I very nearly lost the pleasure of reading through my narrow-mindedness. I'd hate for you to miss out on it because of your own, because you will have deprived yourself of a wonderful piece of literature.
As told by Christopher Metcalfe in alternating chapters "now", in his forties, and "then", as a fifth former at public school, we learn what has made Christopher what he is, and eventually what he could become. "Now" he is a seemingly comfortable bachelor, but following the death of his father, and the subsequent discovering a box of photographs and reports from his school days he is awakened to a past that has made him what he is. "Then" a good looking fifth former himself, he is seduced by a handsome prefect two years his senior, Stephen Walker. There follows a brief, intense but spasmodic affair, which is so beautifully related that it is hard to find any fault with the relationship, despite the guilt that they feel, and they declare their love for one another. But the affair ends tragically when Stephen moves on to Cambridge and Christopher, or Kit as Stephen affectionately calls him, is left to endure his reaming years at school alone. "Now" Christopher realises what this affair and a subsequent promise to himself has cost him, and he sets out to find Stephen and discover what has become of the only person he has ever loved.
The story is beautifully told, and the various characters are a delight, including Christopher's horrendous sister and her family, his adoring and surprisingly open minded mother, and his man chasing friend Catherine, with whom he enjoys a close platonic relationship.
This is a witty, warm and very moving story, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
on 21 July 1997
The simple beauty of this love story shattered me. I kept on crying and couldn't sleep for a week. I kept on having nightmares, not the kind where ghouls chase you...but the kind where you imagine yourself as Chris Metcalfe, waking up one day and you're almost fifty, alone, still in denial. Rummaging through old school memorabilia you come accross the face that haunted you for thirty years....you remember a distant love that was buried under years of self induced uncaring pretension, and suddenly, you are confronted with the vacuity of the life you have been living ...
This is a beautiful love story, whether gay or otherwise, but especially since it is gay ...
For a lot of us who are constantly looking for models of how we should act or love, point to us whether being gay is evil or maladjusted, the story tells us that we just fall in love with the special person, whether society deems it wrong or not. We fall in love because we are human.
The story is set in an English public school where
Chistopher Metcalf is seduced by Stephen Walker, a prefect two years his senior. From the depravity of "a school system designed to run an empire" we become part of an involving love affair, subsequently swept from the warm passion and tenderness of a Stephen in love to the cold and almost violent machinations of another Stephen, young, brilliant, Cambridge bound, and who has everything to lose should his "luggage loft" be discovered. All the time we are exposed to the strength, constant unselfish love, and rock fast determination of a Chris, that slowly disintegrates into a vicious empty, martyrdom ... constantly waiting for a Steph that doesn't come back...for thirty years. We share the intimate joy of the moment when Steph calls Chris "Kit", then breaks us again when we hear the sacred name uttered by somebody else, a constantly giggling, demonic former fourth former who turns out to be another of Steph's affairs.
Did Steph really love Kit ? this is the question we ask ourselves until the end, when eventually we learn that life must go on, and that even if we do not attain the love of our life forever, at least, in the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson, "Tis better than not to have loved at all." We must go on even after a self-consuming love that "wouldn't
die", if only because the seeds of future loves might be strewn along the way, usually without our noticing, since we are too busy consuming ourselves.
This novel is special to me, it is a love-story, unlike a lot out there that are simply pornography. It has graphic details, yes, but intead of simple carnal arousal one finds oneself hurting, too, part of the emotional roller coaster, tender/caustic love affair between Kit and Stephen.
This is the first real young gay love story that I have read. Although it can be said that it also suffers from the seeming defect of gay love stories that they almost always have the element of despair, martyrdom and the ubiquitous disappointment, love stories won't be readable without them. For the romantic among us, it tells us that love transcends societal mores, that being human, we are capable of loving, although it also tells us to "seize the day", and live for the present. It tells us that, although we may have loved the love of our life, we are still capable of loving again... and again...
on 29 April 2003
What a well-written book. Being able to blend the moods of the different time periods together and then making them converge so seamlessly takes a real gift - one which Corlett exploits effortlessly. Although I found some of Christopher's behaviour rather silly and selfish, Corlett did a good job of making me sympathise with his emotions. Additionally, he creates a convincing portrayal of Christopher's mindset of repression, even to the most open and uninhibited of readers.
The teenage love scenes were touching and accurate. True, they were a bit graphic, but I feel that such explicit description is necessary to accurately capture what was going through Christopher's head. The first time anyone goes through what he did, it's bound to be profound. The descriptions complement this profoundness.
All in all, I found this to be a moving, nostalgic and heartwarming story. A realistic depiction of forbidden and repressed love, it is a must-read for, if nothing else, its sheer sweetness.
on 6 August 2005
I have never reviewed any book but I have to do about this book, Now and Then. I am a straight woman but it really does not matter. When I started, I did not imagine I was going to be hooked. After seceral hours, I could not leave the characters any minute, especially Chris. His life is so sad, his love so desperate, so that I was deeply relieved when the conclusion give us a light and hope on Chris's future. I finished the book two days ago, and still I can't stop thinking about Chris and Stephen. I just wonder what is the cause of this sense of everlasting impression on my psyche.
on 27 November 2007
I was riveted to this book from beginning to end. Incredibly strange considering I didn't think it would be my type of novel.
The book unravelled it self gently allowing the reader to absorb one layer at a time. The protagonist Chris drew you in completely especially in the `Then' sections of the story.
The story alternates with `Then and `Now' chapters. I felt I had to rein myself in not to jump to the `Then' sections and I am glad I did. The story unfolds simultaneously to the culmination by reading the novel as presented.
I have to say it is an incredibly affecting novel and despite yourself you are riding Chris's emotional rollercoaster and this can be very painful.
This is a book that made me cry and left a mark. A lot of my (female) friends have gone through something similar and I have often felt it easy dispensing advice. Yet this novel forced me see things through Chris's (The protagonist in the novel) eyes. I remember ringing my close friend after finishing the book and just saying `I understand'.
There is a desperate urgency as the book progresses and decades pass for Chris's love to be recognised. You will have to read this book to find out what happens.
This is a powerful, beautifully constructed book. It is unlikely that you will be able to put this book down until you have finished it.
Although the relationship is between two men the emotions are universal and not gender specific. It is so naturally portrayed that anyone can relate to it. It would be a shame if you missed out on it because of any prejudice.
(Spoiler) On a final note I found Stephen to be an unworthy unlikeable character though this may be my own personal prejudice as I only know and sympathise with the Chris's of this world
on 24 April 2012
It's always a joy to come upon a novel of real quality that you missed out on years ago. NOW AND THEN, published in 1995, is one of those. The NOW is 1987, when Christopher Metcalfe, a 50-year-old publishing editor, is drawn back into family life following the death of his father. Christopher's bachelor existence is like a Terence Rattigan play: lunches with authors, drunken dinners with a platonic ladyfriend with boyfriend problems, fractious relations with his catty sister and her boorish husband. He loves his mother but they don't understand each other; Christopher is gay and still locked in the closet.
The THEN is the 1950s when as a Fifth Former at a minor Public School in East Anglia he was seduced by Stephen Walker, one of the Prefects. The 1950s was a time when homosexuality, at school and in the outside world, was still very much a "love that dare not speak its name". Christopher, like Leo in THE GO-BETWEEN, has been shaped - mis-shaped - by this schoolboy romance which has made him fearful of loving anyone ever again. At 50 he is lonely and desperate. He found no other lover after Stephen and does not have a sex life. He decides to try and find Stephen through the school's Old Boys' network.
William Corlett writes with elegance and economy. He captures vividly the painful intensity of first love, "puppy love" - all that longing, not much fulfilment. The bitterness of Christopher's middle age is also sharply evoked - waspish exchanges with his ladyfriend and his bitch of a sister, the void in his mother's life after losing a husband at the end of a hollow marriage. This sad tale is enlivened by some sharp humour and a few spicy teenage sex scenes. The ending, in the beautiful city of Granada, is perfectly judged and will have you falling under its spell!
[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]
on 27 April 2009
William Corlett's debut novel 'Now and Then' tells the story
of Chris Metcalfe, an emotionally repressed man of fifty,
whose father has recently died. Chris travels back in his memory
to the days when he was a schoolboy at Blandfords (more like a
prison than a minor public school, I thought!) and fell passionately
for Stephen Walker, one of the prefects.
Unknown to Chris, a boy in the year below him (the supposedly
gauche and similarly repressed Jimmy Hobbs) had a crush on Chris
and tried to pursue him........ and so the complications continue.
For the majority of the novel, Corlett's writing and descriptive
powers are superb; we live with Chris at Blandfords and suffer with
him - not only because of his love affair with the unspeakable
Stephen (a masterpiece of unpleasantness here - why on earth
does Chris love him?) and his punishing regime within the school,
but because of his home life as well and here we get to know his
ineffectual mother (who treats Chris more like her husband than her
son) and his ultra-feminine but bossy and strident sister Angela.
At one point in the book Chris, as an adult, pours a glass of brandy
over her head and I wanted to yell 'Bravo!' as I did at the end,
but for entirely different reasons!
The love scenes between Chris and Stephen at Blandfords are
extremely sexy and romantic too - I wish D.H. Lawrence had been
able to write like Corlett - but his greatest character is Chris's
friend Catherine, who keeps on confiding in him about her disastrously
misjudged and mistimed love affairs. Chris remarks to himself that
Catherine 'keeps getting romantically entangled with every penis that
she encounters' - which sums her up superbly! Or am I being unfair?
The novel's weakest point is towards the end when Chris
goes to Spain in search of Stephen when they are both
well on in adulthood. The story has been all but told by now,
and the fiery lust has faded into comradely friendship. There is a
slight hint that Chris may be finding a new love with a greater sense
of loyalty than Stephen's - but the novel finishes before this can
be properly developed and sadly Corlett never wrote a sequel.
Still, this is such a good story that it even rivals my
all-time favourite novel 'A Pin to See the Peepshow' as a book
that I return to again and again. I get the same feeling of
fatal inevitability with it too!
on 4 January 1999
From the onset of his story, William Cortlett brings us into the heart of his main character, Christopher Metcalfe. While summoned home upon the death of his father, the rather detached Chris returns home to deal with lost innocence and the disallusionment of a wasted life. Finding among his fathers belongings a box containing memorabilia from Chris' own days at boarding school. This prompts a moving detail of Chris' romance with an older boy at school. The author brings us the intensity of adolescent love and sexual desire, with all the abandon given to it at that age. Never once do we doubt Chris' reasons for his love, his desire is felt by the reader, as is his confusion as to it's demise. While the focus being Chris' romance with Stephen at school, the chapters of Chris' life at present brings much to the reader as well. His mother's sense of loss is not nearly as profound as one might have expected, and her life parallel's her sons in many ways. These two characters both must deal with lives wasted on denial of one's true being, following safe roads, forsaking the heart by taking the safer and more constant way through life, only to have regrets later on. There are other characters in the Now part of the story who also show us what a treacherous road are hearts can lead us to. There is also much to be said of Stephen, Chris' object of desire while in school. Stephen, for all his classic British Upper Middle classman ship, has chosen to follow his libido through life, beleiving in his own pleasure first, a direct dichotomy to Chris and his Mother. I was left with a feeling of exhilaration after reading this book. I wanted to seize the moments of my life and live each day fully and honestly, wanting no regrets at the days end. I wish to follow the intuitive heart, the sensual path, and beleive I need not worry what sort of impression I'm giving others, but what a life fully recognized has to offer.
on 10 May 2012
I have read many novels and can hands down say this was the most gripping and emotionally involving. The way it is written really draws you into the character Chris, so much that you utterly identify with all his overwhelming emotions towards Steve. I felt as though i was Chris! The plot is at times graphic and I feel this is what makes the deep affection and togetherness of the two characters comprehendible to the reader from Chris' perspective, (as well as being quite thrilling to read!)
I must admit towards the start of the novel I wanted to skim over the 'Now' chapters because the 'then' was just so exciting and mysterious. However, towards the middle-end the 'Now' became equally as exciting. It made me cry, made me happy, angry, confused and question myself, and now I have finished reading it I cannot stop thinking about Chris and Steve... (Sad I know!)
I was a bit disheartened at the end, I so wish there was an alternative ending which ended the way Chris idealistically would have wanted. It all ended a bit on a flat, and I really wanted to know what happened after with Hobbs and Chris, I can't stop thinking about it! I've just turned 18 and feel I couldn't have read this novel at a better time. I would recommend it to anyone who is a teenager at school who perhaps is questioning their sexuality - it's thrilling, eye-opening and such a beautiful read.
If you liked this I would recommend 'Maurice' by E.M Forster.