At last, someone who writes about sex in a fun, fresh way. With a title like this, it is no surprise that this book does have a lot of sex in it. Richard Mason writes sex scenes that seem to be rather fun and rollicking rather than anything too anguished. I know that a friend of a friend of mine thought it had too much sex in it, but I think she may be repressed and jealous.
I found this book to be like a bawdy fairy tale, quick reading and fun. I thought I would be put off by the rather unbelievable protagonist who is so sexy that both women and men want to bed him the whole time, but I found him quite endearing in a terribly big-headed sort of way and wanted to keep reading.
Piet Barol is the son of a small town bureaucrat and has always dreamed of a better life. Luckily, his mother taught him all the finer graces , so at the age of 24 in 1907, he is able to go to Amsterdam and offer his services as a tutor to one of the richest families in the city. He is accepted into the Vermeulen-Sickerts family, as he instantly charms the wife and then turns his persuasive sensibilities onto the husband. Piet seems to have an uncanny knack of making men think either that he’s a good friend or that he’s a good sex object. And he doesn’t really care either way, as long as the situation works out the way he wants.
Of course, there are two teenage daughters thrown into the household, yet it is not them he seduces, but the mother, Jacobina. Luckily for him, she is sexually frustrated as her husband has not touched her for years (because of a strange promise he made God), so Piet really doesn’t have to do much seducing to get into her bedroom (actually, Granny’s bedroom).
Being an accomplished singer and pianist, Piet often entertains the family in the evening by singing from operas (and uses this form of communication to flirt with Jacobina in front of her husband). Apparently Richard Mason has said he’s planning on an e-book edition of the novel for i-pads, which will play the music while the person is reading. Fabulous idea, I think.
One of Piet’s challenges is to help the son, Egbert, who is an agoraphobic and hasn’t been outside for years. I rather liked Egbert; he had voices that told him what to do – he called them “The Shadows” – and he had to do things like have ice-cold baths and endure other nasty punishments.
Piet doesn’t really fail in anything so, of course, he manages to cure Egbert (in a totally unbelievable way, but then this is a fairy tale). I thought Mason might have developed their relationship further, but the novel is written in a lighthearted style, so perhaps such a relationship wouldn’t have fitted in.
Piet and Jacobina’s relationship is found out, so he leaves the household without any money and fairly desperate in a fairy-taleish sort of way, until he goes on a cruise ship to South Africa. Upon the ship, he encounters a waiter who used to work for the Vermeulen-Sickerts and who helps him sneak into first class to carry on the sumptious way of life to which he has become accustomed.
Surprise, surprise, an older, wealthy man becomes bewitched by Piet’s devastating looks (he appears to be dark haired and well defined, but with a hairy chest, which I don’t like). And, of course, his friend the waiter has secretly adored after him for years. Suppressed sexuality weaves throughout the book, with one character always lusting after another. It reminded me of a steamy bathroom the whole time. The older man has his way with Piet in what I think is a wonderfully unoffensive description of a sexual encounter between two men.
Piet walks off the ship a happy man with pots of money in his pocket which the older man had given him and heads off to the Mount Nelson for the best room they can offer. And the book ends with…”To Be Continued”.
This novel is so unlike any others of Richard Mason’s that it barely seems that the same author could have written it. He caused a stink in the writerly world when he was given, at the age of 18, an advance for his first novel, “The Drowning People”. That did very well, although his subsequent ones weren’t very interesting and I thought he had fizzled out or hit a major traffic jam of writer’s block.
Instead, all the while, he was planning on writing about a gorgeous gigolo seducing his way through the belle epoque Amsterdam in the early twentieth century.
I enjoyed the book, although it is no literary great and it wasn’t a challenging read. Not that it could have been that easy to write; you can see that Richard Mason is a talented writer to write a light-hearted book in such a readable way. There is much I could bitch about it if I were in a nasty mood, but it’s entertaining to read about someone’s good looks, charm and successful sex life for once, whether it’s totally unbelievable or not.
I look forward to the second installment.