As fascism rises in 1930s Europe, an aristocratic British writer and a working-class communist begin a homosexual love affair, facing problems of class difference, forbidden sex, and personal ambivalence as they are swept into Europe''s burgeoning violence. 35,000 first printing. $35,000 ad/promo. Tour.
The author of The Lost Language of Cranes offers a departure in both format (the narrative is told in flashback) and setting (the milieu is Spain and Europe) in his latest novel, a haunting reminiscence with faint echoes of E. M. Forster''s Maurice . As in that earlier gay-themed story, a young man from Britain''s upper class falls in love with a youth beneath his station. Events here, however, are exacerbated by world events: the roiling background of the Spanish Civil War in 1936-37 as recalled in 1978 by Brian Botsford, a novelist and erstwhile lover of Edward Phelan, a ticket-taker in the London underground. The young Brian, wary of his homosexuality at a time when the word was scarcely spoken, shares his digs with 20-year-old Edward but engages in a desultory heterosexual affair as well. Edward discovers the liaison and flees England to join the Loyalists in Spain. Brian''s realization of what he has lost leads to the book''s most wrenching segment: his arduous attempts to secure the release of his friend, who has been jailed after trying to desert. Leavitt captures his protagonists'' youthful ardor--both amatory and political--with an understated style that carries the reader as the story builds in intensity. The air of doomed romance permeates but never overwhelms the book; this is a finely crafted melodrama in the best sense of the word. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Best known for
The Lost Language of Cranes (1988), recently adapted into a BBC TV movie, Leavitt is one of the most gifted writers of gay fiction. The prose of both
Cranes and his new novel is positively lyrical.
While England Sleeps is a historical romance in the purest sense. The narrator, Brian Botsford, is a member of England''s upper class, an ambitious writer who happens to be homosexual (not gay in the contemporary sense, not least because he initially suspects he will "outgrow" the inclination). He falls in love with Edward Phelan, who is definitely not from the upper class; in fact, he works on the underground and still lives with his family. Edward moves in with Brian, and all''s well until social mores and the effects of repression intrude on their happiness. After the relationship deteriorates, Edward, who has Communist leanings, goes off to fight Fascists in the Spanish civil war. Brian''s race to rescue him leads to the book''s climax. Brian tells this story from his old age in a tone that evokes a feeling akin to a pentimento: his life has been altered by an all too quickly fading memory of love. The novel''s action is compelling, its language beautiful. Its story lingers as movingly in the reader''s memory as in its narrator''s
The title echoes JFK''s Why England Slept, but Leavitt''s third novel (A Place I''ve Never Been, 1990; Equal Affections, 1989) is not primarily political: he uses the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop for his love story of two gay Englishmen. London, 1936. Recent Cambridge graduate Brian Botsford runs with an upper-class, left-wing crowd while he labors over his first novel and lives on checks from his Lady Bracknell-ish Aunt Constance (both his parents are dead). At an Aid to Spain meeting, he cruises subway ticket collector Edward Phelan and is soon enjoying the ``raw sexual display'''' of this working-class youth, meeting his family and inviting Edward to share his simple bed- sitter. Brian is a fickle hedonist; he abandons his idea of leaving for Spain to fight the Fascists for this romance across the class divide, but then leaves his loyal partner home with The Communist Manifesto while he parties with the smart set and begins an affair with the worldly-wise Philippa, under the delusion that his homosexuality is a youthful phase before marriage and children. The turning point comes when Philippa, knowing Brian better than he knows himself, rejects his proposal; Edward, meanwhile, has read Brian''s tell-all journal and left for Spain in shock. Racked by guilt, Brian at last leaves for Spain himself, to rescue Edward from the international brigade; Edward has turned pacifist and is being tried for desertion. He''ll eventually be sprung by one of the judges (another upper-class gay Englishman) but will die of typhoid on the sea voyage back to England with Brian. Leavitt has bravely attempted to extend his range; too bad the result is glib and melodramatic. It''s not just the corny plot devices: whether it''s politics or class, he has the words but not the tune. --
Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.