A callow gay youth searches for love and the semblance of a life in this debut coming-of-age novel.
An effigy of a lost millennial generation, Oscar, in his early 20s, spends his time prowling London’s clubs and cafes, aimlessly riding buses, wondering what job he can get without a degree or resume—rebuffed when he applies at a restaurant, he considers posing as an underage rent boy—and hanging out with his similarly bewildered friends. What keeps him going is his foster mother, Charlotte Fontaine, a best-selling romance novelist who doles out generous stipends and relentlessly babies him in a fashion that looks like “either mother and son or madame et gigolo.” Their cozy, queasy relationship is disrupted by Tim Kielty, a charming, sexually ambiguous executive with Charlotte’s publisher who starts spending time at their home. During flirtatious smoking sessions on the balcony in which the men eye each other and debate God’s existence, Oscar imagines that they are soul mates. Alas, soon afterward he realizes that Tim is pursuing an affair with Charlotte. This explosive situation stays locked inside Oscar’s head as he stews and fantasizes about Tim without taking action on his feelings. Still, while this ruminative and atmospheric story explores the delicate shadings of Oscar’s emotions, his very passivity becomes a rebellion against the coarse striving of contemporary society as he drifts through Tube stations beside businessmen shouting into their cellphones and longs for a reprise of Victorian gentility. He’s a spiritual seeker in a sea of materialists—exemplified by his pal Bella, full of funny invective against Christmas bell ringers and reincarnation theorists—who ponders whether he “is only blood, and nerves, and meat” or part of a greater mystical connection. Loizou’s supple prose excels at vivid London scene-scapes—“There was Charing Cross Road, people with placards decrying something, Tories or terrorists, then Chandos Place and then the Strand, and an old woman with a shawl playing Strauss on a violin as pedestrians passed by”—and sharp social commentary. Unfortunately, Oscar is such a pallid cipher that his quest for self-actualization hardly resonates.
A richly observed portrait of Britain’s young and feckless that’s compromised by a weak, uninvolving protagonist.