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Edmund White III 1940–

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American novelist, dramatist, and nonfiction writer.

With his first novel, Forgetting Elena (1973), White established a reputation as a new novelist of great promise. His elegant, self-conscious prose has been compared with that of Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde, as have his decidedly homosexual viewpoint and sensibility. Like the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, White's fiction frequently focuses on what he sees as the sad and shallow lives of the idle rich. Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978), White's second novel, is comprised of a series of brooding monologues by a young man who has lost his lover. Critics point out that in spite of its close focus on homosexuality, this work has a wide appeal. Such critics feel that the novel's stylistic virtues and ambitious intellectual aims make it interesting to a diverse group of readers. A Boy's Own Story (1982), White's recent novel, has received generally positive reviews. It is a bildungsroman told through the point of view of an alienated and precocious narrator similar to J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield.

White's nonfictional work includes States of Desire (1980), a sociological study of gay communities and gay lifestyles in the United States. Most critics praise this book as one of the few accurate and intelligent studies on the subject. Some point out, however, that because White focuses, as he does in his fiction, on upper-middle class members of the gay community, his study is not conclusive.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)

William R. Evans

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Holden Caulfield was right, America is full of phonies. More of them infest the literary jungle than any other part of our society. When a writer wants to tell a trivial story he has to do it in style. Sometimes his style is original. More often it is copied from a fashionable giant, say Joyce or Kafka. Rafts and rafts of phony novels by unknown writers come floating down the literary waters. (p. 96)

Edmund White's "Forgetting Elena" is a typical pastiche. Interesting at first, it dawdles off into gibberish and pseudo-sophistication. Before it ends, however, there is a blaze of stylish glory. Undoubtedly the best writing is in the last chapter. Read the beginning and the end of "Forgetting Elena" and you will have sampled the best it has to offer. Concerned with pretentious conversation, it tries to make Fire Island seem like a fascinating place. Replete with sex, it pulls out all the in stops of today's writing. Tomorrow it will be forgotten, piled on a heap of discarded novels…. This is a simple novel told in a complex way. If you like solving cross word puzzles you might enjoy White's book. If you are looking for something worthwhile to read, skip it. (pp. 96, 99)

William R. Evans, in a review of "Forgetting Elena," in Best Sellers (copyright 1973, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 33, No. 4, May 15, 1973, pp. 96, 99.

Simon Karlinsky

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[Forgetting Elena] utilizes a marvelously fresh and inventive narrative device right from the very beginning: an amnesiac young man gradually realizes that he is caught in a cross fire of several contending coteries who battle for dominance in a closely knit little social group on a summer resort island. The narrator-hero is eager to please his hosts and to do the socially accepted thing, but he has no idea of his own status within the group and he has forgotten the code for distinguishing the desirable from the reprehensible in that particular milieu.

The somewhat fantastic island on which the action is set is easily identifiable as New York's own Fire Island, with its highly stylized rites, charades and inbred snobberies…. But what might at first seem to be merely a witty parody of a particular subculture's foibles and vagaries actually turns out to be something far more serious and profound. In a sequence of three stunning chapters (Chapters II-IV) the hero is made to tote loads of pine needles in a wheelbarrow, not knowing whether this is a rare honor or a humiliating punishment; he joins what he thinks are two fellow outcasts for a stroll on the beach, only to realize that this has made him a member of the most fashionable and sought-after in group on the island; and a mysterious woman explains to him the mechanisms for achieving social ascendancy. These chapters present us with nothing less than a semiology of snobbery, its complete sign system. White's analysis of the drives and pressures common to all groupings, cliques and coteries which are based on the presumption of the members' superiority to the rest of mankind is as revealing and thorough as the one performed by Roland Barthes on the ways in which fashion works in his ground-breaking Système de la mode. (pp. 23-4)

As Edmund White gradually unravels for us the emotional disguises his islanders resort to in order to throw a cloak of elegance over the starkness of their basic drives, he is as attentive to significant social minutiae as Jane Austen was in Emma, as surrealistically inventive in contrasting his characters' social masks and their true selves as Gogol was in "Madman's Diary" and "The Nose," and as geometrically precise in his disposition of dissimilar characters, landscapes, objects and emotions as Robbe-Grillet was in Jealousy. These varied predecessors come to mind while reading this or that portion of Forgetting Elena, but actually the novel owes little to any of them. Under its surface guise of a mocking, light-hearted comedy of manners, decked out in a style of almost balletic buoyancy, Forgetting Elena is an astounding piece of writing—profound, totally convincing and memorable. (p. 24)

Simon Karlinsky, "America, Texas and Fire Island," in The Nation (copyright 1974 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 218, No. 1, January 5, 1974, pp. 23-4.∗

J. D. McCLATCHY

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In [Nocturnes for the King of Naples], White resumes his exploration of the textuality of experience, but moves from ritual to romance.

As its pretext, the novel evokes and is addressed to a lost, and therefore ideal, lover—presumably an older man who rescued the narrator, was later betrayed by him and died. In one sense, then, it is the Psyche's reminiscence of Eros, and its chapters are the narrator's meditations on the echoes of an original erotic transcendence in his subsequent affairs and ménages, which comprise the world of experience fallen from a mysterious grace. As a narrative ploy, White's sensuous scholium has the emotional power and melo-dramatic advantages of Proust's brooding over the captive and vanished Albertine. But White's quest is at once as intimate as and more extensive than Proust's, since his conjured and elusive god—the fallible god that love's religion creates—is only invoked as you…. (p. 97)

"You," the second person, the Other within us and abroad. Episodes of the novel's "amorous history" are purposely juxtaposed with literally homesick, fantastic memories of the narrator's parents, a romantic suicide and a sexual pasha. As the perspective shifts from that of love's victim to that of love's child, one realizes the scope of White's quest and its repertory of images. Insofar as this child is father of the narrator, the novel's eerie nostalgia identifies the lost redemptive you not only with versions of the Other but with stages of the self's own past. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that the interfacing family romance becomes our clue that the novel's indulgent memories are its dialogue of self and soul.

If that suggests that Nocturnes can be read as a long, perplexed invocation of the artist's muse, there is a further sense in which it can be devised as a cunning apostrophe to the reader himself, the you-as-audience implicit in any fiction's calculation and appeal. And we are meant to be wooed not only by the plot's haunting refrains but by White's baroque style itself. His text has a mind of its own; conceits, introduced to define and ornament an immediate detail, generate independent lives of their own and wander on until one senses how cleverly their images are latent or overt readings of the tale itself. White writes a heady, luxuriant prose, which he plies with a poet's prodigal finesse and a moralist's canny precision. Nabokov's example may be held up to this book, even against it, but White is a superior stylist of both erotic theology and plangent contrition. And his special gift is his ability to empty out our stale expectations from genres … and types … and to reimagine them in a wholly intriguing and convincing manner. The astonishing stylistic virtuosity of Nocturnes may distract an absorbed but careless reader from White's power to create compelling contemporary myths. But it is that power that dominates his moving portrait of refracted feeling. This book more than fulfills the terms of "promising novelist" that Forgetting Elena prompted. White must now be reckoned an important one, and reckoned with as a crucial figure among those attempting to transform the novel from transcript to text. Nocturnes is a brilliant, provocative, and commanding achievement. (p. 98)

J. D. McClatchy, "Baroque Inventions," in Shenandoah (copyright 1978 by Washington and Lee University; reprinted from Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review with the permission of the Editor), Vol. XXX, No. 1, Fall, 1978, pp. 97-8.

John Yohalem

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The impressionistic novel is getting a new lease on life from Edmund White, whose dreamy "Forgetting Elena" had a success of esteem some years back, and who in his second novel has abandoned such concessions to the reader as linear storytelling.

"Nocturnes" is a series of apostrophes to a nameless, evidently famous dead lover, a man who awakened the much younger, also nameless narrator not to sexuality … but to the possibilities of sexual friendship. Though he well remembers why he found it stifling and why he fled, it was an experience that the narrator feels he did not justly appreciate and that he has long and passionately—and fruitlessly—sought to replace on his own terms.

The matter is not quite a catalogue … but a series of self-consciously artful vignettes from a life passed between Bohemian and cafe societies, in Italy and Spain, on a decaying American estate, on the New York piers. Hapless and abominable Dad and hysterical Mom lurk in the background, but up front and center are rich and amorous young women, poor and callow but beautiful young men, a couple of dogs who get the best press and—in the full splendor of the spotlight—the narrator: a boy and his prose.

It is exquisite prose, gooey and fantastic as Italian pastry, mounds of it, piled on prodigally. Elegant plays on words abound and must be sifted out. Mr. White can't seem to help himself—everything inspires him to metaphor: "Jagged traces of temples emerging out of the ground in the way wisdom teeth erupt through the gums"; "He paces around me with the tact and forbearance of a god who knows that by answering a mortal's prayer and appearing before him, the gift may blind the devotee or strike him dumb and will certainly unsuit him to the rest of his ordinary days"; "My father is one of those gloomy statues who guard the entrances of churches but when he bends down … he changes from portal knight to gaudy day, a ring on every finger and his bald dome shiny and veined."

But where Proust, for a possible comparison, piled phrase upon phrase, hoping by the addition of each to hone an interpretation finer, to gather sensations more completely, to delineate more precisely the exact quality of each experience, Mr. White … is more in love with the sound of his own verbiage. He devises wordy confections because they may themselves be beautiful, not to add to the perfect accounting of his experience. He seems to be hugging himself through words and his talent; and, to do him justice, his passion often seems to be requited. But this is narcissistic prose, and "Nocturnes" is a narcissistic novel—which is not to deny the rareness of its beauty, only the breadth of its appeal.

External constraint imposed on creativity, in such ways as form or even censorship, can itself be an inspiration. The artist is challenged to surmount restrictions and turn them to his own account—as older composers explored the accepted tonalities and forms, implying new possibilities, straining at but obeying the conventions…. In "Forgetting Elena," for whatever reasons of popular taste or censorship in the marketplace, Mr. White disguised his own sexuality, and that incognito seemed to give his art a nervous, mysterious charm, a bewildering but wonderful evasion of certainty—and it was also, perhaps, responsible for the creation of a most appealing heroine.

None of the characters in "Nocturnes"—the garrulous, melancholy erotic faun who tells it, the aristocratic ghost to whom it is recounted, or the endless procession of cunningly realized but unsympathetic eccentrics who people the recollections—is as attractive as either Elena or the hypersensitive amnesiac who tells her story. Thus, Mr. White's layered, plateresque prose, appropriate to the predicament and the creature of "Elena," seems more self-indulgent and excessive here.

This is not to condemn Mr. White for a step that must have seemed, in the present climate, admirable and, indeed, necessary…. "Nocturnes" is a set of delicious, affected prose poems by a writer of great talent and high art. If he has not been so successful a novelist the second time out as the first, he has all the materials of success and may soon order them more perfectly.

John Yohalem, "Apostrophes to a Dead Lover," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 10, 1978, p. 12.

Richard Goldstein

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White is the co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex, perhaps the drolest example of that most persistent genre, the how-to-feel-good-about-being-dirty Baedeker, and States of Desire is a kind of Joy of Gay Society—middle-class society, to be precise. In its demure way, this is as didactic a treatise on homosexual experience as has ever been written. You will not read about rejection in this book—certainly not rejection by the author, who reserves contempt … for those souls who have allowed religion or personal trauma to interfere with sexual expressiveness.

There is only one state of desire in this book: hospitality. Everyone gets laid and the worst disaster is shallowness; no one ends up in the colostomy ward. Everyone is as "out" as anyone could hope to be, and the direction of oppression is always from the outside in. No one questions the potential for gratification in gay society, and the author offers an anthropologist's tacit consent to all its institutions, except perhaps bitchiness. There are demurrers in this book, a reluctance to endorse certain practices the author suspects are unhealthy per se—pederasty, s&m, the elevation of impulse into dogma. But the nature of his uncertainty may be social rather than essential. The desire to be omnisentient is a form of decorum Edmund White cannot quite forgo.

Nowhere in States of Desire is there any sense of how different gay life is for a working-class homosexual, for a lesbian, or for a black. Some attempt is made to represent minority experience within the gay community—some acknowledgement of racism is offered, and faute de mieux, an intriguing account of Amerindian attitudes in the Southwest. There is a brief tap on the knuckles somewhere between Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., for the role gay people play in gentrification, and the author offers the tried-and-true apology for inattentiveness to women's issues….

White's first novel, Forgetting Elena, comes much closer to an amused critique of gay culture than anything in this book. It is tautly executed sci-fi, set in a kingdom that could only be Fire Island, and radiant with the enigma of sexual discovery. But States of Desire is journalism, a form of public discourse, and therefore obligated to the ego, as a humanist like White must think fiction is obligated to the id. Could an overactive sense of social responsiblity have hampered his art, much as (we are told by some) an undue sensitivity produces the desire to experience pain as arousal?

One may argue with White's observations, but one must welcome them, so deftly do they slide past the sphincter of skepticism. This lubricated prose, tasteless, odorless, capable of heating up with friction, and easily soluble in the shower or douche, is the nicest thing about States of Desire. The author's persona, as open and appreciative as the ever-young men of San Francisco he describes, is a particularly attractive bonus to his intelligence. If the bookstore is the ultimate gay bar, States of Desire is a hot number for all it connotes without egregiousness. No screaming here, no leather, no luxe; just the serviceable allure of a man who knows how to make the object of his desire relax.

States of Desire is acute, if not conclusive, writing from the finest stylist working in candidly gay prose. The "ethnic" sensibility, as formative for White as Jewish values are for Philip Roth, distills but does not devour his individuality. The book can be read, much as Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, for its fidelity to history, to experience, to craft. (p. 41)

Richard Goldstein, "Modus Eroticus" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1980), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXV, No. 4, January 28, 1980, pp. 41-2.

Paul Cowan

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If there were a truth-in-packaging law for books, Edmund White's "States of Desire" would violate it. For he subtitles his book "Travels in Gay America" but rarely mentions lesbians, or settled homosexual couples, or homosexuals who are as interested in their work as in sex, or those who help one another kick drugs and booze rather than abuse them. Instead, he devotes most of his 336 pages to a journey through promiscuous, all-male America—a desolate place to live.

Using a conventional picaresque structure, Mr. White wanders from city to city, but he does not display the kind of literary gifts that would allow him to create a memorable account of the voyage. Travel writers have a special job: to escort their less venturesome readers through unfamiliar physical or psychological terrain. (p. 12)

However, Mr. White … is an inadequate guide. Though his book is partly autobiographical, he never tries to help readers who don't share his sexual preference to understand his assumptions or the assumptions of the people he describes. Indeed, the men he meets rarely seem to interest him, except as potential sexual conquests.

He does nonetheless talk to homosexuals who want to discuss serious problems: he encounters homosexual Mormons in Utah who long to return to their strict, puritanical faith; homosexual Cubans in Miami who are outcasts from their own community and from the Anglo-dominated gay-rights movement; a black man in Atlanta who loves being a parent; a businessman in Portland who is trying to force himself to become heterosexual. But Mr. White never explores their feelings to the point where his characters become real or his own half-hidden commitments and doubts begin to surface. That's probably one reason why his journey doesn't seem to furnish him with any lasting personal discoveries. Ironically, he is self-revealing throughout much of the book without displaying much self-knowledge.

Though he seems to like the promiscuous America he portrays, he never makes it seem even remotely attractive to an outsider. He does, however, make it seem a singularly unhealthy place. At a Fire Island party, for example, men mix Tuinals and Scotch, or Quaaludes and vodka, then use angel dust, cocaine and a drug called MDA to subdue their anxieties and intensify their desire. From Boston to Portland, Mr. White describes night lives filled with similar concoctions. (pp. 12-13)

His America is an atomized country, with few children or parents, with little sense of the past or future. Transient places—bars and baths—are the most important locales. Random sex is an exalted activity….

In that environment, a man must be forever young and attractive…. Most people in "States of Desire" share a dread of getting old….

In this journey through the baths, the bars, the streets full of preening young men, the narcotized one-night stands that are the signposts of nearly every city he visits, Mr. White shares what seems to me his characters' tragic self-delusion. According to Mr. White's description—though not in his rather muddled, complacent assertions—they seem to live in a modern-day inferno, where they despise their own aging flesh, where they inflict ceaseless physical and psychological harm on themselves and one another, all in the name of human happiness. That, to me, is a region close to emotional darkness….

[Mr. White] might have prompted me to see the world he portrays in a somewhat more sympathetic light, and, not incidentally, he might have written a fine, revealing book instead of an aimless, shapeless narrative that sometimes borders on pornography—if only he had enough simple human curiosity, enough skill as an interviewer, enough command of structure and language to show us how he and the people he encountered arrived at the psychological land they occupy now. (p. 13)

Paul Cowan, "The Pursuit of Happiness," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 3, 1980, pp. 12-13.

Publishers Weekly

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White's shimmering style in this memoir of a homosexual childhood makes every sentence a pleasure to read, and then once that initial savoring is past, we can linger with his on-target observations and candid retrospection. "A Boy's Own Story" is by no means limited to a homosexual audience—it touches universal bases with smashing success. The narrator recalls his days as a precocious, intellectual boy, the only son in a broken home…. Enchanted by books, dreaming of entering elegant worlds where he'll be appreciated, the boy is drawn to exotic characters … while dying to be accepted by his own peer group. White's revelation of the boy's self-conscious, devious efforts at being liked is wonderfully etched with a fine point—and the humor of terror recollected in tranquility.

A review of "A Boy's Own Story," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the August 6, 1982 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1982 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 222, No. 6, August 6, 1982, p. 57.

J[Amie] B[Aylis]

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Edmund White's four previous books split neatly into two general categories—novels highly acclaimed for their polished prose … and nonfiction books on gay society…. A Boy's Own Story is a poignant combination of the two genres, a first-person novel … about a boy growing up homosexual in the 1950s, and written with the flourish of a master stylist. (pp. 75-6)

The story winds fluently through events of the narrator's youth. The boy is cursed with a maddening family…. The boy contends with a succession of friends, fantasies, bohemians, camp counselors, and schoolmasters, and a self-absorbed psychoanalyst.

This is a sympathetic evocation of a youth's faltering realization but ultimate acceptance of his homosexuality…. While the boy's emerging sexuality dominates the story, White has succeeded in demonstrating that this, however disquieting, is only one of the throes of his coming of age. It is an endearing portrait of a child's longing to be charming, popular, powerful, and loved, and of his struggles with adults, whom he discovers to be frequently inept and hypocritical—all the more engaging because it is told with such sensitivity and elegance. (p. 76)

J[amie] B[aylis], in a review of "A Boy's Own Story," in Harper's (copyright © 1982 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; reprinted from the October, 1982 issue by special permission), Vol. 265, No. 1589, October, 1982, pp. 75-6.

Catherine R. Stimpson

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Edmund White has crossed "The Catcher in the Rye" with "De Profundis," J. D. Salinger with Oscar Wilde, to create an extraordinary novel. It is a clear and sinister pool in which goldfish and piranhas both swim.

In "A Boy's Own Story," a nameless narrator looks back at his youth with irony, affection and sorrow. What he sees is a child as alienated, self-conscious and perceptive as any protagonist in the whole catalogue of 20th-century Bildungsromane. His parents are divorced. His older sister torments him. Because his eccentric father is rich, the boy has material comforts. Because his mother is flighty, his access to both parents is erratic….

This partially deprived child of privilege flees into books and fantasy, which, because they have the order and logic of art, can console him for disorder of life. In them he is majestic, powerful and saved.

A romantic, the boy loves and desires men…. His dreams have elements of eros, elegance and power. In them a glamorous older man may sweep him away; or he, a harsh and desirable young aristocrat, will spurn such a figure.

Indeed, the subject of "A Boy's Own Story" is less a particular boy than the bodies and souls of American men: the teachers and masters; the lovers, brothers, hustlers and friends; the flawed fathers who would be kings to sons who should be princes. Mr. White writes, with shimmering sensuousness, of the male body—of the play of muscle, of light on skin, of the curl of hair.

In this novel, the boy is growing up in the 1950's. He loathes homosexuality. It taints touch, turns scent to stench. At best it is a stage that young girls of perfect femininity will help him through. The boy wants to be popular, not a sissy. The narrator says, "I see now that what I wanted was to be loved by men and to love them back but not to be a homosexual."…

Like so many American novels about coming to maturity, "A Boy's Own Story" asserts that growing up is a descent into painful knowledge, indecency and repression.

Shadowing "A Boy's Own Story" are ghosts of legendary figures other than Holden Caulfield or Oscar Wilde: Orpheus, Adonis, Don Juan, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Hemingway, the Beats. The boy rummages through myth and art for models of manhood, love and sex…. Tradition, incapable of giving the boy real support, is merely titillating. Revising tradition, Mr. White honors the beauty and warns us against the guilt, against the mutilation of male love and homosexual desire.

In "Forgetting Elena" Mr. White mourned the loss of a figure who was at once muse, sister and female lover, in "Nocturnes for the King of Naples" a father and a male lover. In "A Boy's Own Story" he laments the loss of innocence and boyhood. This book is as artful as his two earlier novels but more explicit and grounded in detail, far less fanciful and elusive….

"A Boy's Own Story" has a compelling exactitude. Balancing the banal and the savage, the funny and the lovely. [White] achieves a wonderfully poised fiction.

Catherine R. Stimpson, "The Bodies and Souls of American Men," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 10, 1982, p. 15.

Alan Hollinghurst

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A Boy's Own Story is on the face of it a book about growing up; behind its title lies the salubrious little-manly world of the Boy's Own Paper, with its emphasis on adventure, instruction and initiative; further off stand Mark Twain, Richard Jefferies, H. O. Sturgis, even Forrest Reid. Edmund White's primary irony is to make his the story of a homosexual boy; the time-scheme is jigged around so that there is some brisk buggery in the first chapter, and the sexual latencies of the Edwardian literature of boyhood are rendered emphatically overt. This is, in fact, a mere showing of the hand: there is next to no sexual description in the rest of the book, for its real subject is not sex but sensibility. The preliminary cornholing with Kevin in A Boy's Own Story is an exception in an early life which is all unfocused longing, reiterative fantasy … and vain speculation.

Many of White's observations are piercingly acute, his ruminations subtle and irresistible. His settings—schools, summer-houses, medium-sized towns—are poignantly caught. He evokes the extreme singleness and the baroque imaginative convolutions of adolescence with absolute conviction. He describes with precision the years of vacuous joshing, the defensive inarticulacy of boys, and how this particular boy reads into such inarticulacy a belief in passions which are not only unspoken but prove not to exist. He focuses a welcome degree of attention on the significance of art and classical music for youngsters, worlds in which the articulation of fantasy scenarios is miraculously achieved. But this precision and art are often rendered by preciosity and artiness.

From the start we recognize a tendency to elaborate metaphor: "The night, intent seamstress, fed the fabric of water under the needle of our hull"; "the waves dragon scales writhing under a sainted knight's halo"; when he evokes "the fell of shame" the intensely self-conscious usage must be an echo of Hopkins. Nineties feyness is one ingredient in a manner that shows a disconcerting instability. Time and again a dense but effective paragraph is whipped up to an ecstasy of metaphorical contrivance. When we read of fish as "dripping, squirming ore being extracted from the lake's mines" we hear the tones of a school prize essay, the metaphor being pursued to the full extent of its failure. But then, "the terrible, decaying Camembert of my heart"; "the torso flowering out of the humble calyx of his jeans"; "the windblown hair intricate as Velázquez's rendering of lace"; "a dog's stale turd leeched of everything except its palest quintessence" are turns of speech which, supposedly drawing us into keener insight, succeed only in distancing us in mirth, embarrassment or incredulity. A recurrent image of the unrecognized latency of the boy is that of princes, or kings, in disguise; but when we read "I was basalt with indignation" we are hearing the forced and yet strangely complacent diction of queens. People whom White evokes "tangled up in the tulle of thought" are indulging in something closely akin to the drag-ball of his language.

As the novel's concern is with sensibility so its success, and its convincingness as invented autobiography, will depend on the sensibility with which it is rendered. This remains critically uncertain. Is White merely writing in as fine a fashion as he can; or is he intentionally challenging some assumed norm of decorous heterosexual writing by creating a style that is overblown, self-advertising, narcissistic, the livery of a specifically homosexual literary position? The caressing artifice with which the boy is treated by the man he has become locks them in a strange bond of vanity, but it is impossible to assess how consciously and how ironically this quality is established and admitted by Edmund White.

Alan Hollinghurst, "A Prince of Self-Approval," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1983; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4194, August 19, 1983, p. 875.

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