jueves, 7 de agosto de 2008

A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White

A reviewer of A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White is presented with a number of problems, In the paraphrased words of one of the book’s characters, there may be a lot in the wash, but eventually not much to hang out, and this, by the end of the book, largely summed up what it had delivered. Be reassured, however, that the process of reading A Boy’s Own Story is a delight from start to finish. Edmund White’s style is quite beautiful, full of complex allusions, superb characterisation and, above all, masterful description. Every character springs to life off the page. If only collectively or individually they had more to offer…

A Boy’s Own Story is an adolescent’s discovery and realisation of his own homosexuality. The book promises a lot of sex and, sure enough, it both begins and ends with explicit encounters. Throughout the remainder, however, the sex seems to be more in the mind than in the experience. It appears that Edmund White’s adult recollection of his teenage dilemmas could have been subject to the embellishment of later reflection. Repeatedly the author stretches time to explore the detail of options whenever the boy of the title is presented with a dilemma. These were surely the voices of later years speaking through an ostensibly reconstructed, but surely imagined past. The boy always spoke eloquently about his choices, considered options in detail, but perhaps not convincingly. One of the more engaging aspects of coming of age sagas is how innocence is portrayed and how its conquest is engineered. In A Boy’s Own Story one feels that Edmund White wants to deny that he was ever innocent, or at least suggest that he would ever admit it. And so a spark that could have lit up the glowing prose never quite ignited.

When the book first appeared over twenty years ago, the fact that it did appear in its explicit form, apparently denying the guilt that oozes off every page, might itself have been worthy of note. Twenty years on it now reads as merely dated, but still it reads beautifully thanks to the author’s supreme skill with words and expression. The issues that might previously have rendered it remarkable have, however, long since cooled, so now the reader must approach the book either as it is, as an autobiography, or alternatively in historical terms. The book, however, cannot sustain the latter approach.

I will now certainly seek out other books by Edmund White, but in the case of A Boy’s Own Story I am tempted to conclude that though writers have to be self-obsessed, when that neurosis is turned completely inward, it raises new barriers that can exclude the reader. Hence the gloss. Hence the sheen of the whiter than white washing that proves to be just half a load.

View this book on amazon
A Boy's Own Story (Picador Books)

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