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WHILE ENGLAND SLEEPS by David Leavitt

WHILE ENGLAND SLEEPS

By David Leavitt

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83349-5
Publisher: Viking

 The title echoes JFK's Why England Slept, but Leavitt's third novel (A Place I've Never Been, 1990; Equal Affections, 1989) is not primarily political: he uses the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop for his love story of two gay Englishmen. London, 1936. Recent Cambridge graduate Brian Botsford runs with an upper-class, left-wing crowd while he labors over his first novel and lives on checks from his Lady Bracknell-ish Aunt Constance (both his parents are dead). At an Aid to Spain meeting, he cruises subway ticket collector Edward Phelan and is soon enjoying the ``raw sexual display'' of this working-class youth, meeting his family and inviting Edward to share his simple bed- sitter. Brian is a fickle hedonist; he abandons his idea of leaving for Spain to fight the Fascists for this romance across the class divide, but then leaves his loyal partner home with The Communist Manifesto while he parties with the smart set and begins an affair with the worldly-wise Philippa, under the delusion that his homosexuality is a youthful phase before marriage and children. The turning point comes when Philippa, knowing Brian better than he knows himself, rejects his proposal; Edward, meanwhile, has read Brian's tell-all journal and left for Spain in shock. Racked by guilt, Brian at last leaves for Spain himself, to rescue Edward from the international brigade; Edward has turned pacifist and is being tried for desertion. He'll eventually be sprung by one of the judges (another upper-class gay Englishman) but will die of typhoid on the sea voyage back to England with Brian. Leavitt has bravely attempted to extend his range; too bad the result is glib and melodramatic. It's not just the corny plot devices: whether it's politics or class, he has the words but not the tune.