A fictionalized life of the gay British painter who came to define and embody California dreaming.
Many have tried to put into words the tumultuous life of the much-loved British David Hockney, but few have captured his essence. In this novel, Cusset (The Story of Jane, 2001, etc.) traces Hockney’s life from his first encounter with art as a child to his sexual awakening to the bursts of luck and opportunity that punctuated his career to his heartbreak, in so many senses of the word. Cusset paints a picture that, for those familiar with Hockney’s work and life, feels hyper-realistic. In fact, it’s often hard to draw the line between biography and novel—perhaps this is what gives the book its strength. “David knew that success didn’t just fall from the sky. In New York he had admired what in England would have been considered bad taste: the ease with which Americans knew how to sell themselves, without getting bogged down in false shame and feelings of guilt,” Cusset says through the omniscient narrator. The sentence summarizes Hockney’s understanding of the art world: one where personalities thrive and personal histories crumble, where taste dominates and timidity falters. So begins Hockney’s eccentric career as an explicitly gay artist living in the world; from London to San Francisco to Paris to Los Angeles, there isn’t a cosmopolitan city his work hasn’t touched. Cusset discusses with grace the heart-wrenching relationship with Peter Schlesinger—the primary male subject of most of Hockney's early- and midcareer paintings—that the artist watched dissolve. “Peter was sexier than Marilyn, sexier than the living doll in the song by Cliff Richard that David liked so much. A boy doll. David would have given his kingdom for a kiss.” Cusset’s style oozes with delicacy, pointedness, and gusto. She masters the short sentence, enlivening the narrative with the speed of Hockney’s rise to fame—a speed that comes to perfectly mirror his experience with the AIDS epidemic, friends dying too quickly all around him.
A perfect short exposé of Hockney’s life as seen through the eyes of an admiring novelist.