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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jolly good.
I really enjoyed this book. Perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word actually, as by the end I was horribly upset and miserable. But it is a very good read. It's a love story which is very moving in a rather odd, frustrating way. I kept thinking the main character needed a damn good thrashing, though I became more sympathetic as the story went on. The story is set during the...
Published on 17 May 2000

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars NOTHING TO SUE OVER
Though fun to read, this is a slight, unpersuasive work, unlike the stupendous "Indian Clerk." Leavitt lifted his story from Stephen Spender's memoirs of the 1930s, causing Spender to sue successfully, forcing some edits. But Spender should have kept mum, for this part of his life was nothing to be admired. Brian, the protagonist/Spender, is a dim, weak, lying, closeted,...
Published on 24 Nov 2007 by John Stahle


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jolly good., 17 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. Perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word actually, as by the end I was horribly upset and miserable. But it is a very good read. It's a love story which is very moving in a rather odd, frustrating way. I kept thinking the main character needed a damn good thrashing, though I became more sympathetic as the story went on. The story is set during the late thirties during the Spanish Civil War and is clearly inspired by the writings of Hemingway and Orwell. The setting works well and I was pleased to note that the author does not attempt to use the war to make moralising political statements. The end is somewhat predictable, but is actually all the more moving for that. A good read, but prepare to be depressed by the time you've finished it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersive and real, 11 Nov 2007
By 
Erastes (Norfolk, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
This is an excellent book which I devoured in two sittings.

It has a readability that draws the eye, and the narrator's voice is completely convincing. It's written in first person, there is a faux prologue "written" in 1978 where Brian explains that he's now living in America and considers himself to be an American and an epilogue which looks back at 1938 from that fifty year gap. Both of these devices go far to convince that the book was written by Brian and not by David Leavitt.

Like "As Meat Loves Salt" (although not to the same extent) Brian is not a likeable or attractive character. A product of his class, he coasts through life, unlike Edward who takes what he wants with more enthusiasm, facing what he is face on. Brian still thinks that being homosexual is just something one did at school and that he would get over it, although it's obvious he's deluding himself. He's a playwright, and he plays at it, having no drive to support himself; he sponges off his Aunt Constance (or "Inconstance" as he cruelly calls her, as she doesn't pay him regularly enough for him to depend on her support. He mumps off his friends and generally won't commit to one thing or another, which leads to the crisis event in the book - one which he will regret, and will haunt him for the rest of his life.

I found it to be tremendously absorbing, like the best of historicals, it immersed me in the era without info dumping. As I've said before, if a book reads like it was written in the time, rather than about the time, it earns big kudos from me. The class divide might be hard for non-Brits to grasp - but pre-war it was still more relevant than people would suppose. I felt ashamed of Brian's inability to admit his affair to his own friends, but then found it perfectly acceptable to talk to Edward's sister about it. I wanted to smack him with the clue-by-four several times in the book - but that's ok - that meant that the author was doing his job.

It also brings the situation in Europe at that time into sharp relief, there's a lovely sub-plot with a friend of Brian's who is attempting to get a friend out of Europe which breaks your heart, and you, as the reader, knowing what is going to happen in a few short years, hold your breath and weep at the hopeless cause and loss of life that is the Spanish Civil War.

If you prefer to like your protagonists, then this book might not be for you, but if you want a meaty and rich story that takes you so viscerally into the period that you can smell the steam engines and feel the bubble of the champagne of the Fast Set, then you'll enjoy this as much as I did. A definite keeper.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars NOTHING TO SUE OVER, 24 Nov 2007
By 
John Stahle (New York City) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
Though fun to read, this is a slight, unpersuasive work, unlike the stupendous "Indian Clerk." Leavitt lifted his story from Stephen Spender's memoirs of the 1930s, causing Spender to sue successfully, forcing some edits. But Spender should have kept mum, for this part of his life was nothing to be admired. Brian, the protagonist/Spender, is a dim, weak, lying, closeted, no-talent Oxbridge graduate who lives off handouts from his aunt. He meets Edward, a young ticket-taker on the London Underground who is totally admirable in every way. Edward is honest about being gay and loving a man; Brian is a weasel who ruins the one sound relationship he ever had. What follows their breakup is a Spanish soap opera, with Brian magically speaking the lingo. Proceed directly to "Indian Clerk."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite possibly one of the best books ever written., 19 July 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
I've been a great admirer of David Leavitt's writing since I first encountered "A Place I've Never Been" in one of my literature classes in college over five years ago. Since then, I've devoured pretty much everything he's written because they are _that_ good. With "While England Sleeps," in addition to his eloquent writing style (in English syntax, no less), he effectively incorporates historical notes, but only insofar as to paint the backdrop for the real subject of the story - the tumultuous love affair between two English boys - which he captures quite beautifully. I should warn, however, that I have had to limit myself to re-reading this book only once a year because it really is heart-wrenching; if you've ever been in love, or realized (and agonized about) it only after the fact, proceed with caution. You may find yourself inconsolable after the last page.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow moving novel set in 1930's London. Doesn't work., 17 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
I had read two other Leavitt novels prior to this one, 'The Lost Language of Cranes' and 'The Page Turner'. I thought both books were well written and looked forward to reading 'While England Sleeps' whilst on holiday. This tells the story of two young men from very different social backgrounds who start a gay relationship in the London of the 30's, against the background of political upheaval in Europe. I must admit that I was disappointed with this book. I found it mostly very tedious, using cliched language and characters reminiscent of the Dick Van Dyke a la Mary Poppins school of cheery cockneys. Leavitt should stick to writing about what he knows best, contemporary times and personalities. Writing about a past time in what to him is a foreign country has not worked. After finishing this book I read the marvellous 'Mr Norris Changes Trains' by Christopher Isherwood, written around the time that Leavitt's novel is set. The language used is as fresh as if it were written yesterday. This shows that there is no need to write using the archaic language/style that Leavitt has chosen to use here. Sorry Mr L. but definitely a thumbs down this time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Romance during the Spanish Civil War, 11 Feb 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
England and Spain during the thirties provide the setting for this novel. The narrator develops a relationship with a self-educated ticket collector who becomes increasingly horrified about the atrocities in Spain. The emotional and political conflicts are well illustrated, although I found the first part of the novel too cosy and comfortable, in marked contrast with the later scenes. Good enough to read again sometime.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David, go on this way!, 20 Aug 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
It's really a great romance. I agree with previous comments, as it's been said that the book has to be read carefully. A "pentimento" story, which help us not to forget what our lover means and how he's expected to be treated
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and moving gay love story, 28 Nov 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
While England Sleeps is a beautifully written tale of gay love, set in London in the 1930's. Moving, romantic, evocative, and sexy, it portrays a relationship that is hampered by class differences, a homophobic society, and a country that is in political turmoil. Leavitt is a wonderful author whose work is beautifully written but still very accessable. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than "The Lost Language of Cranes", 9 Jun 2013
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This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
You know that feeling you have when you finish a novel and you can't do anything for a while as you ponder the story and miss the characters from your life, While England Sleeps is such a novel. Beautifully written it is both an anti-war novel and a great love story. Truly moving.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really engaging read. Honest and sad, 25 Jan 2011
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This review is from: While England Sleeps (Paperback)
I don't have the language for book reviews and have no wish to repeat what other reviewers have said in much better English. I found the book very engrossing and showed a flawed main character who lives with the results of his behaviour for the rest of his life. Although it sounds dramatic it could in fact happen to anyone - not knowing whether something you did or left undone would have affected someone else's life profoundly. I read the book straight through and regretted finishing it so quickly. I'll re read it at my leisure. Well worth any expense incurred.
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While England Sleeps
While England Sleeps by David Leavitt (Paperback - 25 Jun 1998)
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