An intense, scrupulously eloquent debut, by a young English writer, charts a secretive homosexual’s progress through adult hypocrisy and deceit to a state of alienation so pervasive that he essentially condemns himself to disillusionment and sardonic despair.
Santiago Moore Zamora’s encounters with a laconic and seductive “escort” frame his extended recall of an itinerant childhood, spent mostly apart from his preoccupied Spanish mother (whom he adores) and cold-fish English father. There’s a succession of boarding- and secondary-schools, varied only by boring summer holidays and compulsory “army manoeuvres” (he owes such allegiance to both his countries of origin) preparatory to entering Oxford—and of furtive sexual encounters with two (amusingly named) male teachers, the indignantly “bisexual” Mr. Wolfe and the ardent, adipose music master Mr. Fox (“this great blancmange of a man”), producing both “James Moore’s” notoriety on his several campuses, and imbuing him with an all-too-predictable hunger for love. Golding can certainly write. His sinuous Jamesian sentences offer pleasures fortuitously disproportionate to the frequently unpleasant content, and he has an impressive gift for graphic physical imagery (during piano practice, Mr. Fox’s “fingers . . . pounce, and properly mount mine, and writhe upon them momentarily”). Nevertheless, he’s moving in on turf long since occupied by Edmund White and Alan Hollinghurst, and his (really) underplotted debut offers nothing new. Furthermore, the virtual absence of dialogue (Golding uses indirect discourse instead) over 400-plus pages effectively prevents the creation of any credible characters other than the annoyingly (if understandably) self-absorbed narrator-protagonist.
Good writing pretty much wasted on an undeveloped premise.