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on 8 September 2006
I wanted to read this having loved 'Tortilla Curtain' and am glad I did - Boyle is a great storyteller and this is quite a story ! He paints a vivid yet fictitious picture of the personal and professional lives of Kinsey and his entourage through the eyes of his earliest disciple, John Milk. In fact, as it turns out there can be no distinction between their personal and professional lives and the job description is not as much fun as you might expect! Lots and lots of sex, obviously, but very much from a scientific point of view. If you want eroticism you may be disappointed as after a while it's like reading about gardening, but the characters and their unconventional relationships are brilliantly drawn and involving, some endearing and others absolutely repellent. Also packed with period detail on the USA from the 1930s to 50s. Parts of the story I found very dark and disturbing and although I thoroughly enjoyed it I felt relieved that despite the way it reads it isn't actually a true story.
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The work of Alfred Kinsey is explored through a fictitious narrator, John Milk, who is there for the first lecture Kinsey gives on sex and soon after becomes involved in the sex research that will form Kinsey's legacy and change the world. But life in the inner circle is far different from the life presented to the media...

T.C. Boyle's novel is an excellent look into one of the 20th century's most interesting and important thinkers/scientists, someone who brought sex from the shadows and shame and into popular culture. It's no coincidence that the two books "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male/Female" came out just before the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Kinsey is a fascinating figure himself, a kind of forward thinker who believes all sex is natural whatever your inclination and practices what he preaches. Where the book becomes interesting is in the tangled web of interconnecting relationships between all of the characters who sexually share themselves and their partners among one another leading to devastated feelings and the limits of the sex research and Kinsey's philosophy of free love which fails to take into account real love, just physical sex.

The inner circle resembles a cult almost with Kinsey as the leader and his "followers" doing his bidding, worshipping his strong personality and mission of bringing sex out into the open. It's ironic because Kinsey is so anti-religion and yet he expects complete fealty to his cause and his beliefs without question from his followers. But his utter single mindedness in his pursuit would lead to an early grave and leave a kind of darkness and hollowness to the people in his life after all he put them through.

The novel is a fantastic read with Boyle taking you right there into the times, personifying Kinsey perfectly and giving the reader a clear and vivid picture of the times and the impact his work had on society at the time. The reader also comes away with an understanding of how Kinsey went about collecting the data via interviews and later filmed recordings.

Where the novel fails is in its length - I felt that at just over 400 pages it went on a bit too long. The focus on the imaginary narrator became a bit dull especially when the book's main subject is Kinsey and the story should have stayed on him more than meandering away. Also, this is a book where not much happens. That didn't bother me as I didn't expect much to happen (it's not that kind of story, more of a character portrait) though it could bother some people who might be looking for a novel with lots of twists and turns - this isn't that book.

Besides that, this is a brilliant novel of an important and interesting figure of 20th century history who is brought to life with the expert skill of master writer TC Boyle. Fans of Boyle will enjoy this book while those seeking an idea of who Kinsey was but don't wish to trudge through a dry non-fiction book will find "The Inner Circle" suits their needs. An excellent read, Boyle proves once again his exorbitant ability in the written form outshines many of his contemporaries - definitely worth a look.
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The work of Alfred Kinsey is explored through a fictitious narrator, John Milk, who is there for the first lecture Kinsey gives on sex and soon after becomes involved in the sex research that will form Kinsey's legacy and change the world. But life in the inner circle is far different from the life presented to the media...

T.C. Boyle's novel is an excellent look into one of the 20th century's most interesting and important thinkers/scientists, someone who brought sex from the shadows and shame and into popular culture. It's no coincidence that the two books "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male/Female" came out just before the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Kinsey is a fascinating figure himself, a kind of forward thinker who believes all sex is natural whatever your inclination and practices what he preaches. Where the book becomes interesting is in the tangled web of interconnecting relationships between all of the characters who sexually share themselves and their partners among one another leading to devastated feelings and the limits of the sex research and Kinsey's philosophy of free love which fails to take into account real love, just physical sex.

The inner circle resembles a cult almost with Kinsey as the leader and his "followers" doing his bidding, worshipping his strong personality and mission of bringing sex out into the open. It's ironic because Kinsey is so anti-religion and yet he expects complete fealty to his cause and his beliefs without question from his followers. But his utter single mindedness in his pursuit would lead to an early grave and leave a kind of darkness and hollowness to the people in his life after all he put them through.

The novel is a fantastic read with Boyle taking you right there into the times, personifying Kinsey perfectly and giving the reader a clear and vivid picture of the times and the impact his work had on society at the time. The reader also comes away with an understanding of how Kinsey went about collecting the data via interviews and later filmed recordings.

Where the novel fails is in its length - I felt that at just over 400 pages it went on a bit too long. The focus on the imaginary narrator became a bit dull especially when the book's main subject is Kinsey and the story should have stayed on him more than meandering away. Also, this is a book where not much happens. That didn't bother me as I didn't expect much to happen (it's not that kind of story, more of a character portrait) though it could bother some people who might be looking for a novel with lots of twists and turns - this isn't that book.

Besides that, this is a brilliant novel of an important and interesting figure of 20th century history who is brought to life with the expert skill of master writer TC Boyle. Fans of Boyle will enjoy this book while those seeking an idea of who Kinsey was but don't wish to trudge through a dry non-fiction book will find "The Inner Circle" suits their needs. An excellent read, Boyle proves once again his exorbitant ability in the written form outshines many of his contemporaries - definitely worth a look.
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on 25 July 2014
This novel was presented to me as, "TC Boyle's least favourable novel" so, naturally, I didn't have game-changing expectations.

(For the record, 'Worlds End', 'Drop City' and 'East For East' are among my favourite books, ever.)

'The Inner Circle' IS a game-changer. It did deserve high expectations, because it shatters them. It breaks them down and it bloody delivers. It deserves to have high expectations and hype, because it lives up to them and it exceeds them.

This novel is the fictional tale of a very factual man. And, of course, sex. It is packed full of sex and the scientific terminology is addictive. All of it is addictive, and I admit, I have started Alfred Kinsey's repertoire. Beginning with 'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male'. I am excited about his work. I am itching to ~know. It's difficult to explain.

Boyle's incarnation of Prok (Professor Kinsey) is stunning. Absolutely breathtaking. And John Milk. John Milk is now on my list of 'most favourite fictional characters'. He is inevitably damaged. That progression is equal parts heartbreaking and gorgeous to read.
Prok and Milk's relationship is complicated and simple. Sexual and fraternal. It is captivating.
In fact, all of the relationships in this novel are enthralling.

This novel has rendered me incoherent and I cannot recommend it enough.

Just read it. No embellishments. No expectations. Read it.

And lose yourself in their world. It is utterly hypnotising.
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on 18 September 2010
I wonder if T C Boyle had any misgivings concerning his decision to narrate 'first person' through the fictictious John Milk. I wish he had these doubts in the first chapter and then reconfigured the novel as it would have worked better for me if he had used the third person narrative as he did in "The Tortilla Curtain". John Milk's first person narration really grates due to his weak voice and the events around his marriage were depressingly repetitive and just uninteresting reading.
John Milk is obsessed about his work and the fact finding collection of sexual detail which impacts on his relationship with his wife, Iris. Boyle's use of the Zombie Cocktail at the end of the novel, especially if based on fact, is a serious endictment on Kinsey's character, and could be argued as an early example of attempted Date Rape. Kinsey came across as a control freak and possibly a borderline personality.
The basic plot is fascinating concerning the collection of facts for the Kinsey Report which is arguably the most pivotal sexual analysis of the 20th Century. I believe that this report was instrumental in breaking down the barriers promoted by Christian, Jewish and Muslim suppression of sexual freedom which they have fastidiously enforced for obvious self-purporting reasons.
Potentially, this novel could have been much better but sadly is limited by the extensive Milk element to the plot.
Footnote. Bizarrely, this novel was characterised as Gay by the Charing Cross Library. One wonders if they think if a book is about sex then it has to be gay!!
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on 9 January 2015
This is a fictionalised account by one of Professor Kinsey’s protégés and is so engrossing it’s difficult to keep in mind that on the whole it actually happened. Boyle captures the '50s beautifully and by the end the characters were some of the most well-drawn that I’ve read, though not necessarily people I’d like to know. Yes, it’s about sex research, but it’s not at all salacious. Boyle had a case of over-blown prose in the first fifty pages, but it cleared up after that (thank goodness).
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on 5 July 2006
In a year in which I've been uncharacteristically prolific in terms of volume of books read, this novel is the finest of the bunch. TC Boyle's "The Inner Circle" is a beautiful story which exposes you to a whole gamut of emotions: joy, frustration, disappointment, enlightenment, and to a lesser extent, titillation. Having never heard of the author before ("ignoramus!" you cry - guilty as charged), I chose to read the book purely because of an enthusiastic review in The Economist. I was glad I did.

The story is narrated by John Milk, a handsome but socially awkward college undergraduate whose adult life has hitherto been fairly uninspired and directionless, both professionally and sexually. A chance encounter with a college professor, Alfred Kinsey ("Prok"), forever changes the course of Milk's life. When the two men meet, Prok is at the very beginning of an ambitious research project that would later revolutionise American attitudes to sex; he needs an extra pair of hands with which to share the burden of work. Milk, humbled at being given the opportunity to be part of such a momentous project, agrees to work for Prok (although tellingly, it never seems as if he is given a choice; to agree is almost expected). Initially the combination works well; it is only when Milk begins to develop and mature into adult that the problems begin.

As Milk begins to form meaningful relationships and undergoes his own personal sexual revolution, albeit orchestrated largely by Prok (Milk's first two partners are Prok and his wife), it becomes apparent that his mentor's views aren't always conducive to matrimonial harmony, even though they seem to make perfect rational sense on the surface. Perhaps notions of "love" and fidelity aren't as antiquated as they might seem. We are given insight into the complex relationship between Prok and Milk - one that is pseudo-paternal but also involves physical relations, even though it often seems as if Milk is not that way inclined. Subconsciously, Prok and Milk fulfil different needs in each other. In Milk, Prok finds a subservient auxiliary who will carry out orders with blind devotion and without question, including the servicing of his sexual whims. At a deeper level, he finds someone who is impressionable and malleable enough to be indoctrinated into his distinct worldview. In Prok, Milk finds a paternal figure who will give his life what is so badly needs: direction and approval.

This book's strengths are many; superb character development is perhaps its foremost. Milk, the narrator, variously evokes frustration, pity but ultimately sympathy from the reader. The portrayal of Prok as a deeply flawed genius is perhaps even more impressive. Prok is a man perfectly clear of his life's goal, and a tireless pursuant of his cause. He lives and breathes his work as if he were put on Earth for only one reason: to revolutionise the way Americans think about sex. However, he is also tyrannical, dictatorial and extremely inflexible - qualities that become increasingly apparent as the story unfolds. Other characters of note include Iris - Milk's wife - who, despite being in many ways a victim of Prok's consummation of her husband, proves the only character capable of standing up to him. In Mac, Prok's wife, we find a woman who is ostensibly a doormat: she is resigned to her husband's way of life and is ostensibly accepting of any indiscretion he fancies committing. In her quiet way, however, she retains the capacity for human emotion and we are never entirely convinced that she has entirely subscribed to her husband's worldview.

In a book that is supposed to be about sex, "The Inner Circle" is surprisingly fraught with emotion, perhaps just as physical relations and emotion are inextricably linked in real life. Boyle reminds us that the desire to be loved and jealousy are just as basic human instincts as is the carnal need to copulate. He does so without being remotely patronising or offensive, instead with a beautiful story that involves very ordinary human beings whose emotional capacities are stretched by one revolutionary but ultimately misguided man.
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on 26 May 2016
Great book
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on 23 April 2005
This book grabbed me from the moment I picked it up until the end. As well as the titilation of the Kinsey world, the book is a smart and insightful view of what sex, marriage and ultimatly love means in a world of so called 'science'. The characters are real and honest and the novel spills out with historical interest of the pre war to 1950's era. I highly recommend this read, it's a hit!
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