Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 643
Music critic for a London newspaper, narrator Doug Yandell has just left the office of his priggish editor, Harold Meers, when he receives a call from Kitty Vandervane, the wife of his friend, Roy, a composer, conductor, and ne’er-do-well celebrity. Arriving at the Vandervane home, he learns from Kitty that...
(The entire section contains 643 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Music critic for a London newspaper, narrator Doug Yandell has just left the office of his priggish editor, Harold Meers, when he receives a call from Kitty Vandervane, the wife of his friend, Roy, a composer, conductor, and ne’er-do-well celebrity. Arriving at the Vandervane home, he learns from Kitty that Vandervane has taken still another mistress, this one even younger than his others. She urges Yandell to help Vandervane, to save him from the irreparable ruin that would ensue if her fifty-seven-year-old husband decided to run off with his latest mistake.
The “mistake” is Sylvia Meers, the Girl 20—though she is actually only seventeen—the daughter of Yandell’s editor, Meers, a philistine who already despises Vandervane as he does all artists whom he does not appreciate or understand. As for Vandervane himself, he readily admits his infatuation with Sylvia. He unashamedly explains that he finds her youthful sexuality a healthful tonic, exciting, stimulating, renewing.
The narrator, too, is no stranger to purely sexual relationships. He shares Vivienne Copes, his mistress, with “another bloke” about whom Vivienne is tactfully reticent; Yandell is also in love with Vandervane’s daughter, Penny, who has taken Gilbert Alexander, a black West Indian, as her lover.
With these relationships clearly defined, the story moves quickly. Vandervane convinces Yandell to help him, not in Kitty’s meaning, but in supplying him with access to Yandell’s apartment, where he and Sylvia can pursue their lovemaking. Additionally, Yandell finds himself lending a semblance of respectability to the affair by accompanying Penny on a double date with Vandervane and Sylvia. After a madcap evening (“the night of the favour”) at a pub and then at a wrestling match, the couples separate. Penny gives herself to Yandell, but only on condition that they never become intimate again or see each other except as acquaintances.
Over the next few weeks, the narrator becomes more involved with Vandervane’s creative life as well, attending his conducting sessions and learning with some dismay that Vandervane has planned to lead a rock concert at which he will play one of his own compositions, Elevations 9, a sexual pun. Meanwhile, Sylvia’s father, Harold Meers, has discovered the relationship between his daughter and Vandervane. Inviting Vandervane and Yandell to dinner, he gloats over his knowledge and threatens to publish an expose which will ruin Vandervane’s reputation. Vandervane is blase, irritatingly cavalier, taunting the editor to follow through on his threat.
Yandell voices these concerns to Vivienne, but she, while sympathetic, brings him along on a visit to her father, who understands his daughter’s sexual appetites and enjoys an evening of philosophical and cultural conversation with Yandell, this latest of “Vivy’s” men.
The climax of the book is Vandervane’s performance of Elevations 9. Despite Yandell’s objections and the narrator’s attempt to sabotage the concert by greasing Vandervane’s bow, Vandervane is brilliant. In a hilarious scene, Vandervane plays his Stradivarius with passion and skill while the rock group, Pigs Out, accompanies him on the bongos. After the concert, as Vandervane and Yandell are leaving, a gang of toughs attacks them, breaking Vandervane’s Stradivarius and knocking Yandell unconscious.
Recovering, Yandell pays a last visit to Vandervane and learns that Vandervane and Sylvia have indeed decided to run off, Meers’s blackmail threat notwithstanding. Meers, in fact, has already fired Yandell for his part in the affair. In a final twist, Yandell also discovers that he has lost Vivienne; she has decided to run off with “the other bloke,” who is revealed to be Gilbert Alexander, Penny’s former lover.
When Yandell meets Penny in the final scene, he remarks how much happier she appears now that all relationships have been either severed or consummated. Penny responds that she has gone on to hard drugs and that, indeed, they are “all free now.”