An ambitious young raconteur coaxes the passion out of a desiccated family in turn-of-the-century Amsterdam.
British novelist Mason’s latest (The Drowning People, 2005, etc.) teases out the eroticism in a 19th-century game of cat-and-mouse without succumbing to the clichés that might earn it a Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Of his cunning protagonist, Mason writes, “The adventures of adolescence had taught Piet Barol that he was extremely attractive to most women and to many men.” He adds: “He was old enough to be pragmatic about this advantage, young enough to be immodest...” Piet is far more used to poverty and hardship than he is to the life of luxury in Europe’s La Belle Époque. But he is above all ambitious and trained to navigate the world of privilege by his late mother. So it is that Piet infiltrates the household of Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts, one of the wealthiest men in Amsterdam. Maarten’s sex-starved wife Jacobina hires Piet to tutor their son Egbert, a boy who becomes hysterical outside his own home. Though playing a dangerous game—the image of a man walking a tightrope is threaded through the narrative—Piet loses no time in pursuing all pleasures, be it music, fine food, wealth or the charms of his employer’s wife. Throughout the novel Mason displays a sharp eye and a wit to rival Oscar Wilde.
A provocative and keenly funny portrait of a rake with an agenda all his own.