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on 10 January 2010
When it was published in 1948, this book was both a scandal and a best-seller. Sixty years on, it is not hard to see why. The book tells the story of Jim, whose passionate weekend affair with his teenage best friend, Bob, confirms him as homosexual and instills in him an obessive belief that his future life will only come together when he and Bob are reunited. The book tells of Jim's forays through the secret gay worlds of Hollywood, the merchant marine and the armed services in WWII. What would have shocked at the time is not the depiction of Jim's gay afairs, which are discreetly told, but the revelation that an all-American boy, tall, handsome and athletic, could be both the model citizen and, at the same time, lead a secret life, and a secret life shared by thousands of others. At one point, Jim reflects that 'obviously the world was not what it seemed. Anything might be true of anybody'. That was what was shocking about the book: it was too near the bone.
Even today, parts of that aspect of the story still resonate. What gives the book timeless appeal, however, is the depiction of Jim and his vain attempts to find personal fulfillment on his waqy to the longed-for reunion with Bob which, of course, turns out to be a disaster. In one sense, the book is dated since it strongly suggests that, in society at the time, the possibility of happiness for gay men is non-existent, but its story still resonates way beyond its undoubted historical interest.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 September 2011
It seems almost presumptuous writing a review of a book that has more than proved its worth, published in in 1948 and never out of print, City and the Pillar is a landmark book. Written by a twenty one year old Gore Vidal who was already making a reputation with what was the first WWII novel, it cause an uproar on its publication.

The story is centred on the young Jim Willard, who as he is about to enter his last year of high school is in love with his best friend Bob, one year his senior. the expectation is that Bob will go onto college, and Jim will join him in a year, but at the last minute Bob reveals that he is going to sea. On the eve of Bob's departure Jim seduces the heterosexual Bob. Jim then lives in the hopes of reuniting with Bob and continuing their lives together, and so one year later he follows Bob to sea and spends the next ten years in his search for his friend.

During that time Jim follows an adventurous life. After a short time at sea he finds himself in Hollywood where is good looks and manly attributes win him favour with the famous. He travels, has various relationships, enlists when the US enters the war, but all the time his infatuation with Bob hangs over him and prevents him forming any lasting attachments.

Jim is to all outward appearances the typical all-American boy, athletic and handsome, there is nothing effeminate about him, and he does not even consider himself initially as homosexual, he is in fact fairly ignorant about such matters (although the subsequent years will educate him). Jim is far from the typical fictional hero, while likeable he is a little naive, not overly bright, he may not understand himself but is often perceptive in his understanding of others, but it is perhaps in his very ordinariness that his appeal lies, and, maybe like some of us, in his hanging onto his childhood dream.

The City and the Pillar is perceptive and informative, providing an insight into the difficulties of the life of the homosexual in the mid-twentieth century, including the difficulty of recognising and accepting ones own inclinations. But is is also and engrossing read, never mawkish or sentimental, one hopes that Jim will achieve his goal, but it seems the odds are against him, and no one can come out a winner.

This 1997 edition includes an interesting preface by the author written in 1993.
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on 31 January 2001
The City and the Pillar came out the year of the Kinsey Report and Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms. The Kinsey Report stunned America with the revelation that a tremendous proportion of Americans had at least one homosexual experience in their life; Capote's clever novel thrilled the literati with its gothic elements and sissy-meets-tomboy-before-finding-bliss-with-queeny-Cousin-Randolph storyline, while reassuring the dominant culture, because, yes, homosexuals were freaks. But Vidal's novel gave us the first ever boy-next-door as gay antihero, and that, beside its numerous literary qualities, is what makes it priceless.
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on 23 April 2016
I've just re-read this novel from 1948, which I think is the very first 'home-grown' gay novel in the US. Vidal rewrote the book in 1965 with major changes and a revised ending, less melodramatic than the original (murder) although the hero's "hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-wronged-faggot" action seems equally out-of-character.

THE CITY AND THE PILLAR, like many early novels from writers in the 40s and 50s (and still all too often today), shows clearly the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald: lean, finely-honed prose with a kind of muscular elegance, which works supremely well for this chronicle of the coming-of-age and the coming-out of a gay high-school senior during WW2 and its aftermath. Jim Willard's briefly reciprocated love for a fellow student casts a shadow over the next decade of his life as he becomes a sailor, then a tennis-coach (and kept boy) in Hollywood and New York.

Scenes in NY and LA offer early glimpses of the archness that were to characterise the author's public persona in later life and reach an apotheosis in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and MYRON, the two-volume high-octane farce which for many readers is at once his best and his worst writing. Many scenes - and many of the characters - could as well belong to New York or Los Angeles of today as to the 1940s. Except for some clunky conversations exploring the 'Nature Of Homosexuality' which must have seemed insightful as well as daring in 1948, this is a lot less dated than other gay novels of the era.

The sex scenes are almost as discreet as Mr Forster's - there's nothing as lurid or as dazzling as Gore would later concoct for Myra/Myron. But overall THE CITY AND THE PILLAR is not only an outstanding piece of gay fiction (better than many that were to come after Vidal opened the floodgates) but also one of the best novels of its era, different from but as exquisitely readable - still - as the early works of Capote and Carson McCullers.

In later life Gore overdid the bitchiness and bitterness, perhaps disappointed by his failure to make it as a realm presence in US politics, the role he most craved. But his output as novelist, historian and essayist was prodigious. Other writers may have left a bigger footprint (Roth, Mailer, Updike, Irving), but Vidal deserves to admitted to the literary pantheon. He wouldn't thank me for this, but he is probably, as Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said of himself, "in the very front rank of the second-raters".

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]
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on 28 March 2001
Excellent example of a gay novel, providing a good balance between the emotional and sexual endevours of a young gay male in 1950's America. It boasts an effective use of emotive language, which both captivates and entertains the reader. The book provides a stunning journey through calm and stormy waters for a young man discovering his sexuality. A must read for all.
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on 13 June 2014
This is a great book, a good read. Gore Vidal explores relationships, particularly homosexual relationships, tastefully, delicately, and above all elegantly.

This short book has a cleverly constructed story line. It follows the development of young Jim Willard who develops a serious crush on his school friend Bob Ford just before both of them set off from their home towns to begin their lives in the wider world. Jim encounters a series of colourful characters including a flamboyant gay Hollywood screen actor and an hilarious New York host called Rolloson. Will Jim ever meet Bob again? This is what I kept asking as I read this enticing novel. Read it to find out.

Review by author of "Charlie Chaplin waved to me".
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on 16 January 2009
It was certainly brave of Vidal to write this book, although slightly foolhardy (in my eyes) to force it upon the public in 1948 and throw away his literary career. I wonder how his life would have differed, had he toed the line for a little bit longer. By 1960, his gay theme would have been considered fairly normal fodder.

But the story of Jim did grip me and I loved the seedy backdrop of 1940s America. It was interesting to see the word "gay" emerging as a totally new piece of slang...and even the term "beard" to describe a woman who pretends to be a gay man's wife.

The apathy displayed by Vidal's characters in the face of WW2 was an eye-opener. People didn't give two hoots about the war in Europe, until Pearl Harbour arrived. Even then, with the US formally at war, the primary concern of most soldiers and sailors (gay or straight) is when they're next going to get laid.

As for the ending, I was still shocked and the year is 2009! I was shocked that Jim could be so violent to the love of his life...and even more shocked by the vivid finale of male rape. Everyone seems to think that Jim kills Bob in this scene, but does he? Vidal never explicitly says so. I closed the book thinking that Jim had left Bob lying in a hotel room, broken and humiliated...which seems like a smarter way to finish this novel, rather than outright murder...which is over the top.
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on 4 February 2015
This book had me gripped from the 1st page, I read it in a day, just couldn't bring myself to put it down once I started reading.
An amazing story of a young man drawn around the world in search of his love. Vidal makes the book spark the imagination, absolutely brilliant read.
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on 30 July 2014
A fascinating insight into the life of an American War time (WW2) who realises he is a homosexual; but learns to cope without it without slipping into drugs and degradation. It avoids writing about the sexual act itself, but allows the reader to assume that this probably did occur.
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on 11 November 2012
Not what I expected, but an engaging novel. More so to think that it was first published in the 1940s. I think Mr Vidal denied any biographical element to it, but you can sometimes wonder as you turn the pages.
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