THE SOUL'S GYMNASIUM by Harold Acton

THE SOUL'S GYMNASIUM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Sir Harold, that self-proclaimed ""aesthete"" from the Waugh era, has always been more highly regarded for his art/culture history than for his ventures into fiction; and this slight collection of stories, nearly all of them set among the expatriate set in 20th-century Florence (assorted decades), is far stronger on high-style-living detail than on shapely storytelling. A few of the pieces, in fact, merely run through life histories of mildly interesting Americans in Florence: much-widowed Carrie from Virginia, for instance, who ends up as a Marchesa, in old age adopting a beautiful local teenage boy who romps in the nude; or Brooklyn's fastidious Leo Kremer (partly-based, perhaps, on Leo Stein), a bachelor super-collector who succumbs to a moment of lust with a flirtatious cousin, is trapped into marriage, and sires a far-from-aesthetic daughter (""Mamma tells me that your old junk is worth a fortune. . . . What fun it will be to sell it when you are gone!""). And other stories focus in a bit more tightly, though rarely with wit or charm, on Acton's two prime preoccupations: sex and art. There's ""Fin de Race,"" in which a foolish American married-woman becomes infatuated with an elegant young Italian homosexual; ""Flora's Lame Duck,"" in which a foolish middle-aged divorcee becomes fairy-godmother to a lame Italian lad, then his lover, then his victim; ""The Soul's Gymnasium,"" about a British pseudo-guru who uses mystical rites as a cover for his seductions of young men; plus a slightly more engaging group of tales involving literary games-playing, antiquarian bookshops, and priceless estates. Erudite work, then, sprinkled with allusions to art-history, Florentine architecture, and such--but, however cultivated on the surface, most of these sketches rework familiar territory (the vaguely campy view of Anglo-Americans abroad) without enough irony, insight, or narrative craft to re-animate it.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles