Thursday, 23 June 2011


I read this ages ago, and entirely forgot to blog it. Here's the back cover. It will give you an accurate idea not just of the plot of the book, but of its style:
The adventures of adolescence had taught Piet Barol that he was extremely attractive to most women and to many men. He was old enough to be pragmatic about this advantage...' It is 1907. The belle epoque is in full swing. Piet Barol has escaped the drabness of the provinces for the grandest mansion in Amsterdam. As tutor to the son of Europe's wealthiest hotelier, he learns the intimate secrets of this glittering family - and changes it forever. With nothing but his exquisite looks and wit to rely on, he is determined to make a fortune of his own. But in the heady exhilaration of this new world, amid delights and temptations he has only dreamed of, Piet discovers that some of the liaisons he has cultivated are dangerous indeed.
Yes, yes, I think you get it. 'Glittering family,' 'exquisite looks,' 'heady exhilaration.' Say no more.

On the positive side, it was interesting to learn about Amsterdam at the turn of the century, and it's strong economic links with America; I had no idea that Holland was so rich or so influential at this time. Also interesting was the child Piet is hired to tutor, who has a raging case of OCD some decades before anyone is equipped to understand it or help him. There is plenty of sex in this novel, and while it's no Portnoy's Complaint, and there were a lot of pulsing mounds and so on, it was in general not embarrassing or sordid, which is I think impressively difficult to achieve.

Encountering this book entirely without context, I read and immediately forgot it, as a piece of mass market pulp. I've been surprised since to find it quite extensively reviewed as literary fiction, and to discover that its author, Richard Mason, is famous for having received one of the larger advances ever recorded for a first book, at the ripe old age of 19.

When he was an old Etonian in his first year at Oxford.

But let's try not to hold that against him. He sounds quite nice here.


  1. Some books are forgotten the moment they are read. Sometimes what we learn or take from a book is not the story but other events and history that goes with it.

  2. Interesting review, Sarah! I know Richard Mason as the author of 'The World of Suzie Wong' which is set in Hong Kong and which is a fascinating book which was later made into a Broadway play. I didn't know that he has written a book set in Holland too! It is also interesting that he got a large advance for this book when he was just 19! Wow! Thanks for introducing this book to us readers :)

  3. I think that is so true Nana. I have thought a lot more about Holland, oddly, since I read that book!

    I had never heard of the Suzie Wong book, Vishy - thanks for mentioning it. I am amazed he wrote a book set in Hong Kong. . .