History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason (Weidenfield & Nicolson 2011). The first in what promises to be a series of books chronicling the rise and rise of a cadish character in early 1900s Amsterdam.
I’m not sure about you, but me, I like my early twentieth century sex scenes with a bit of tongue in cheek (so to speak). I’ve written before about how I love Lucifer Box, Mark Gatiss’ rakish gigolo creation. I thought History of a Pleasure Seeker may give me a similar mix of knowing puns and far-fetched exploits. Something light and frivolous.
Instead, it seemed to take itself very seriously indeed.
Which was fine, for large sections of the book. The plot was such that it kept me hooked in parts; kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next to a number of the characters.
But it was all let down a little (a lot, if I'm honest) by the time spent on the sex scenes, and the seriousness with which they were presented. Which sounds quite prudish of me, I know. But this book was sold to me as a fun tour of early twentieth century excess, so naturally I assumed a little bit of adventure and a large spoonful of nods and winks. What I got was less Evelyn Waugh and more Mills and Boon. I’ve never actually read Mills and Boone, and I don’t intend too. You go ahead if you want to, but we may not be able to look each other in the eye afterwards. Which would be a shame.
I feel a little aggrieved that I was tricked into reading this, to be honest.
I guess it’s my own fault. I was seduced by the marketing. The book itself is one of those artsy looking, compact hard-back sorts - the kind that feel good to hold. I also read an interview with the author where he came across as an interesting guy. The kind of guy who would write a good book. Apparently, he wrote out the whole of this one long hand in a large leather notebook. That’s the kind of detail I like, makes me feel that by reading the book I’m entering some sort of modern literary set.
But none of that counts if the book isn’t fun to read. And that seemed to be the key ingredient missing here – fun. I mean, if you’re going to create a character that floats around the gregarious, highly sexed settings that Mason chooses for his protagonist, surely you have to give him a bit of wit and innuendo. Surely he needs to be ever so slightly aloof, a little other-worldy. But instead, Mason gives us far too much of his “motivation”, makes Piet (the main character) a bit too real, takes all the light heartedness out of his capers. He’s just too complex and dull to live up to the “pleasure seeker” promise of the book’s title.
Mason, for me, has simply missed the point of this sort of book. Or perhaps it’s his publisher’s fault for presenting the book the wrong way. Or perhaps it’s my fault for expecting this to be something it wasn’t. Whoever’s fault it is, this just didn’t work.
For the first time in a little while, I can hand on heart say that I did not enjoy reading this.
Largely because I can't bring myself to give a 1 GBR score.
There’s a week’s worth of reading I’ll never get back. Silver lining? At least you can go watch a Columbo instead of picking this one up. Sometimes, I wish I was you (sometimes).