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The Birth of the Free Love Movement
on 7 July 2012
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.