Jonathan Kemp’s fast-paced debut novel, ""London Triptych," sweeps across 100-plus years of London’s gay underworld through the lives of three men: Jack in the 1890s, Colin in the 1950s, and David in the late 1990s.
Whoring provides a way out of poverty and boredom for both Jack and David, setting them on a path of glittering excesses of drugs, sex, and parties of all sorts. For Colin, the artist of the three, it offers an alternative to middle-class banality and a path to titillation and exploration of gay life as he thrills to the stories of his prostitute male model, Gore. Rent boys, aristocrats, artists, snitches, felons, showgirls, transvestites and artists strut their stuff through Kemp’s pages, providing entertaining and occasionally erotic reading.
Skillfully woven into the characters’ development are atmospheric descriptions of the travails of gay life-witch hunts, police harassment, and trials. It is love and its ramifications though, that spark the crises here and the characters’ arcs. Jack is befriended by the aristocratic and generous Oscar Wilde, and despite warnings to the contrary, cares way too much for the writer and ends up by testifying against him out of spite and revenge, only to find his actions resulting in remorse and regret. David also leads a life of unbridled hedonism until he too, falls in love with freewheeling Jake and is rewarded with a stay in prison. Rebuffed by the handsome loquacious Gore, spurned love works only for Colin who turns his monumental grief at his loss into newfound creativity.
In Kemp’s world, love is dangerous, if not doomed. And yet it persists, prodding David in prison to write his autobiography for Jake; Colin to give Gore "London Triptych"-Colin’s masterpiece that was exhibited in the Tate and for which Gore modeled; and the older Jack to keep the autographed scrap of paper given to him by Wilde.
The lives of all three interconnect- the 1890s Jack appears in a queer pub in 1954 and chats with Colin and Gore; Gore shows up as David’s client and friend and takes him home after prison. Similarly, the city of London and the law become themes throughout, deriving their power and interest from the different historical perspectives.
Snappy dialogue and unique perspectives make "London Triptych" a compelling, easy read about politics and pleasure in London.
Arsenal Pulp Press
by Jonathan Kemp