Top positive review
You can't fight human nature
on 12 July 2016
Back in the early 1980s, when I was finishing at school, and when this novel is set, the default expectation in much of Britain was that everyone should be straight and that same-sex relationships were wrong. I'm not sure so much has really changed since then. This is the story of two such relationships. One, between two boys, never really gets off the ground, sunk by misunderstanding and bitterness. The other, between one of the boys and his schoolmaster, ends in tragedy, as these stories typically do.
The book has been compared to Roger Peyrefitte's "Les amitiés particulières" which deals with same-sex relationships at a French boarding school in an earlier era. In that earlier book, the teacher is given an unsympathetic treatment - indeed, is portrayed as a nasty piece of work who is out-manœuvred by the boys. There will be even less sympathy nowadays for a teacher who behaved in the way described in "Alexander's Choice" and the first reaction of many people will be that he deserves the disgrace facing him at the end of the novel. The book however compellingly presents him as an attractive character in a real and deeply felt relationship with a willing boy who benefits from it.
The most interesting and rounded character is Julian, the timid boy in agonies of unrequited love, unsure of himself and his place in the world. How I empathised with him! Looking back, I wish I had been taken in hand at that age by someone like Damian, the schoolmaster, to guide me through those difficult years, as Alexander was.
The story is set in Eton, which jarred with me, and which I think will further limit the appeal of this book. For others, like me, who were educated at less exalted establishments, try Brian Kennedy's (surprisingly good) "The Arrival of Fergal Flynn".