Having read all Duncan's books (except "The Bloodstone Papers", which I'm saving) I am completely at a loss to explain why he is not regularly in the top five writers in English. Why is Salman Rushdie there, and not Glen Duncan? I have no idea.
Having said that, "Hope" is not an easy read. It deals with the degradation of the soul that accompanies exposure to pornography and the use of prostitutes, telling the story of Gabriel Jones' fall from grace.
For a first novel, it's remarkably self-assured. The quality of the prose is the thing I relish most about Duncan - some have accused him of employing too many metaphors and similes, but that is purely a side-effect of the issues that he addresses, which cannot really be written about directly. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to your grandmother, unless she was very broad-minded. Nor your grandfather for that matter. But if you're interested in human sexuality, especially on the boundaries, you cannot fail to get something from this tremendous novel.
I read this book in two sittings, both on trains. This is best way to do it. The prose is dense and intense, the lead character wrings his hands, beats his breast, and leads you slowly through the twists and turns of his life. If you can't stand angst, you won't enjoy this book. Unless you can spare the time to read it in large chunks its oppressive weight won't build up on you and you'll miss its greatest effect. The plot is simple boy-meets-girl stuff: nothing spectacular. None of the characters, except Alica, the glittering centre-piece of the narrator's life, are particularly admirable and as time passes each of them undergoes some unpleasant experiences. As expected these are all tied together albeit occasionally with co-incidence rather than a linear story. Their collected woes are seen only though the narrator's eyes and he gallantly suffers them for us, so we can seen how bad they are, hence all the aforementioned hand-wringing and so forth. A wistful nostalga for the superficially idylic life of students in love (the narrator and Alica) and young children at play is well evoked, whilst simultainiously tainting it. This is achived through the narrators dual view: a rose tinted view of past happiness and a rain smeared vision of his, and others', shortcomings. Do the characters emerge as better people? Well, no, mostly they emerge as sadder, somehow less alive people. By the end of the novel the pathos is palpable and where the characters once were there is left only a hole. The final pages contain two shocks both of which change the reader's view of the narrator. They are either trite and out of character or they finally reveal the (ficional) world without the narrator's self-serving filter. I can't decide. And what does the reader take away? I was left with a ringing sense of emptyness and dispair but no real insight into the book's alleged subject (the effects of pornography). It's a book about people, not about society. It reminded me a little of Interview With The Vampire, but with less blood and blunter teeth.
I first discovered Glen Duncan's writing a few years ago after reading a few reviews of I, Lucifer on Amazon. I bought it, read it and marvelled at it and since then have devoured all his books, saving this one, Hope, as I just knew I was going to love it. I certainly wasn't wrong and I am confused as to why Mr Duncan is not better known because he has such an intense way of writing and a beautiful way with words that he must rank among the best British novelists working today.
In this he expertly tells the story of one man's discovery (and subsequent loss of) love, alongside some quite dark recollections from his childhood. It is exquisitely written and it's about time more people became familiar with this author's work. My only criticism would be that the much hinted-at horrific betrayal that is finally revealed at the end of the book really isn't that bad (and so the resulting break seems a bit harsh) but maybe that's just me? Regardless, go out and buy every one of Glen Duncan's books right now, especially this and Love Remains.
Hope is a story of living in the past. It is a story of a man, not yet 30 but feeling at life's dead end, who cannot forget having experienced true love. It is a novel soaked in despair, burning and urgent despair, and self-loathing and guilt, for having brought about his own destruction.
The book can sometimes be a little repetitive, and the constant angsty mental self-flaggelation of the narrator made me skip the odd paragraph, as the book takes its time to tell a fairly limited amount of plot and story. But it is well-written, with real craftsmanship and care for the writing.
It is also a completely soul-destroying, depressing read for anyone who has felt real love, but lost it, and for romantic males. It's a tale about pornography and objectification, about soul destruction and the brutality of purchased artificial sex, not on the willing participants, but against the mind of the consumers.
The book moved me. As I don't really enjoy feeling crushed, I wish I had not read it. It is genuinely oppressive, pessimistic and cynical to read - but very well done despite it all.
The frank pornographic and graphic language takes a while to accustom to, however.
If you like your novels straight forward with a distinct beginning, middle & end then this isn't the book for you, however if you like your mind & emotions teased & maybe stretched a bit then give it a go. "Hope" is my 2nd favorite book (after "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks)& is a book that I'm sure I'll re-read many times. This book would be a great achievment for any author but as a debut novel it's particularly outstanding.
"Hope" is a brilliant novel written from the heart and reading it is an immersive and intoxicating experience. What makes this novel unique is the combination of its confessional style and unparalleled insight into young adults' experience of love, sex, loss and loneliness. The result is an intellectually charged, astounding achievement of heart wrenching candour. The main character, Gabriel, seductively pulls you not only into his world but into the darkest and brightest recesses of his mind where you will instantly recognise yourself, if not someone you know. I love this novel and have spent the last four years looking for another as good as this. Until then, Hope is a pleasure to open to a random page and start reading. Every sentence is resonant of some kind or truth and how it feels to be human.
Darkly humerous as well as unflinching, this is a novel which purports to tell the truth about male sexuality. If this is something you might find interesting, and not something you would wish to dismiss out of hand, then you probably have an adventurous attitude to books which don't stop at the bedroom door. This book takes on male sexuality in a full-frontal examination of why pornography is so habit-forming. It's a story of one man's exploration of sex and the place that pornography has in a world that cheapens women, deforms men's expectations and shatters the fairy-tale world of true love.
Gabriel Jones looks back on a time of idyllic love with his first girlfriend, the beautiful and perfect Alicia. Gradually we discover what happened and how this led to Gabriel's relationship with the (again beautiful - comes with the territory) prostitute Hope.
I didn't altogether buy the plot which has an unlikely coincidence. Also, Alicia's naivety was a trifle forced. However, this is Glen Duncan's first novel and it demonstrates his exceptionally sensual and highly intelligent prose style. It is dark, daring and occasionally deeply disturbing. This isn't a carry-on romp - it's an occasionally sardonic story about people who feel as real as a writer can make them. At the same time there's no getting away from the rather depressing aftertaste of this book.
Goodness, this is intense. Nasty, forcing the sometimes unwilling reader to listen to things she'd rather not hear about, told by a character for whom I felt less than fifty per cent liking for. But so strong the writing, so able, as with 'Love Remains' (which I liked much better) to jolt me into remembering, realising, sometimes for the first time, things, feelings, awarenesses I had forgotten. And so full of tiny insights into the reality of Life, that it would be impossible to mark it down because I'd 'not enjoyed' it. Nevertheless, I'll wait a few months before reading 'The Bloodstone Papers, also on my TBR shelf.