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History of a Pleasure Seeker Paperback – 12 Apr 2012
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A hugely accomplished novel - the story of Piet Barol, a young, provincial Dutchman and the social and sexual adventures he embarks upon in belle epoque Amsterdam. (THE INDEPENDENT)
Richard Mason's new novel - elegant, upholstered and, for all the sex, well-behaved - is part of a trend... for historical novels that seem not only set but written in the past - modern tracings, skilfully done, of old tropes, old forms. (ADAM LIVELY THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)
a masterpiece. Like Henry James on Viagra. Not only gripping as hell, but brilliantly arranges that the imagined world of Maarten and Jacobina's household sits entirely within Amsterdam of the belle epoque. I thought Piet was wonderfully drawn - rogueish and yet wholly sympathetic. (Alex Preston, author of This Bleeding City)
A sharply written story of love, money and erotic intrigue pulsing behind the staid canal fronts of nineteenth century Amsterdam. Mason's hero is amoral but irresistible. I was gripped till the very last page. Thank God there's a sequel (Daisy Goodwin)
Mason tells his story with humour, charm, fine attention to detail and a healthy dose of eroticism. (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)
Upstanding stuff. (THE INDEPENDENT)
'A sharply written story of love, money and erotic intrigue pulsing behind the staid canal fronts of nineteenth-century Amsterdam' Daisy GoodwinSee all Product description
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The story recounts the progress of Piet Barol, a well-educated but lowly born young man setting out to pursue a fortune in Amsterdam in 1907. Barol - who the first sentence of the book tells us was "extremely attractive to most women and many men" - manages to secure a job as tutor to a young child of the very wealthy Vermeulen Sickerts family. This brings him into contact with Maarten, the head of the family who sees him as a surrogate son, Jacobina, his frustrated wife who sees him as anything but, the couple's daughters, and a variety of characters amongst the serving staff. Barol's interaction with most of these is charged with some level of sexual tension, which plays out in a variety of ways.
But don't imagine this to be some kind of literary "Confessions of..." Yes, it is very sexy in places. But our hero doesn't avail himself of every erotic offering which comes his way. His fear of venereal disease, his awareness that unchecked passion may undermine the ambition which is the one thing more powerful than his libido, and his deep sense of his place, all combine to restrain him at times. Restraint in fact features prominently in the story, and many of the erotic passages concern the contemplation, as much as the having, of sex. In this sense, it is deeply grounded in reality.
And there is much more as well. A detailed picture of the rising Dutch middle class at the beginning of the twentieth century. An all-too-familiar tale of greed and banking crisis. Art and music. Religious doubt and conviction. Coping with extreme OCD. Some early stirrings of feminism.
This diverse mix of threads is woven into a compelling story with great skill. The writing oozes voluptuousness and quality, but things still move along at a good pace. Mason has no problem with switching point-of-view at will. He manages to align our sympathies with a hero who could very easily have turned out to be odious and repulsive. And he knows precisely the moment to season his literary prose with the strongest of Anglo-Saxon words.
Some people have said that they find the ending too sudden and a little unconvincing. Maybe, but we are promised that there is more to come, and I for one, like many of the characters in this very pleasing book, am gagging for it.
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