BURNING HOUSES by Andrew Harvey


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Artsy gay novel-within-a-novel about letting go of obsessive love; as in his first novel (One Last Mirror, 1985), Harvey makes heavy use of dialogue, and oblique use of Oriental mysticism. The novel consists of the seven sessions during which Charles reads to Adolphe from his so-called novel (more properly, a memoir) about his intense, decade-long platonic love for Mark, bisexual and married. Charles is a 30-year-old English writer and traveler; Adolphe, 67, is the self-described ""worst film director in the world, and the most famous,"" a flamboyant, name-dropping old queen and an instantly recognizable stereotype. Charles has been writing his novel in Anna's apartment in Paris, Anna being a rootless songwriter who talks in the same campy, brittle way as her gay friends. The reading sessions consist of scene-setting by the variously-costumed Adolphe (a Schiaparelli gown, Glinda's Wizard of Oz outfit), some light petting, and the night's excerpt, Adolphe acting as artistic midwife while interjecting his own dramas, notably a lifesaving experience of bliss before a bronze Shiva in a Paris museum. His interjections and their relative energy are a welcome relief from the anemic exchanges between Charles and Mark, whose grandiloquent posturings (""we have been given something so great we both nearly break under it"") seem more appropriate to the doomed lovers of a Racine tragedy than gay men in the late-20th century. The memoir's conclusion moves Mark back to his family, and Charles to the hard-won epiphany that solitude is his one hope; the sessions conclude with Adolphe's no-tears-please announcement that he is dying of cancer. The self-involved, preening chatter of Harvey's characters is no more appealing than it was in One Last Mirror, while his curious structure works only as a vehicle for self-congratulation.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin