London Triptych – Jonathan Kemp – Book Review

London Triptych – Jonathan Kemp, copyright 2010.

Publisher: Myriad Editions

Pages: 239

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased News

Recommendation: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook

I seem to be running into two types of books lately, DNFs and really fantastic reads. London Triptych was one of the later. It was also my first real foray into LGBT literature. I know right…you would think a gay man who loves books would be reading more LGBT stuff, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.

London Triptych is, as the title suggests, a trio of stories. Each of the three stories, told simultaneously, follows the life of a different man and illustrates his experience as a homosexual in his time. Jack Rose is a young man making his way in late 19th century London whoring, for, among others, Oscar Wilde. Colin Read is an artist, lonely and closeted, on the descending side of middle age and unequivocally terrified of his sexuality amidst the crackdown on homosexual activity in the London of the 1950s. David is a modern whore, surrounded by cross-dressers and transsexuals, living it up in a nirvana of sex and drugs in London in the 1990s. These three men, their lives together spanning the course of a century, are so vastly different, yet share so much in their brotherhood.

While these three short stories connect with one another for all of a brief moment, there are several strokes of life that paint them together to give the triptych greater cohesion. Love, loss, shameless prostitution and divine innocence are mixed with a healthy dose of fear and anxiety to illustrate the surprising similarities and ghastly differences that have branded the path of gay rights, gay culture, and gay life from the late nineteenth century to modern day.

“The Greeks placed greater value on the emotion of love than on the object. If one felt love, that was enough, and there was never any question of whether the object of one’s love deserved such adoration. The emotion justified the object, not vice versa. The beloved was good because he was loved, not loved because he was good.” London Triptych, page 108.

Be warned, for those with a pallet lacking in tolerance and at least some degree of sexual curiosity, this read may not be for you. There are numerous portrayals and recollections of sexual escapades, many of which are well outside the mainstream. If a bit raunchy, they at least provide a laugh.

“He simply kneels there making little sniffing sounds, followed by tiny gasps, as if he can only breathe this way, gasping those words over and over. ‘I love the smell of you. I love the smell of you.’ I let slip a fart once by mistake (I couldn’t help it) and I thought he would be cross. But instead, he came straight away, most violently across the back of my legs, making more noise than ever. So that became a regular occurrence, the farting. I was learning.” London Triptych, page 45-46.

That is a tame excerpt if ever there was one. But if you can bring yourself to look beyond the lurid details of the lives of these men, you will discover great beauty.

“In the invisible city through which I walked that night, I don’t recall seeing a single soul. The rest of the human race, the living world, had slid into another dimension. I moved as if through water. I cried, and the rain that started gently to fall as I walked felt like an amplification of my sorrow.” London Triptych, page 219.

All too often, gay life is looked down upon as being something undesirable or dirty. It is seen as a life of sex, sex and more sex. Kemp does an amazing job of looking past the sexual lives of men in a century’s worth of sexual deviation to paint the most deeply human face I have ever seen put to the lives of homosexuals. London Triptych is, hands down, the most heart-wrenching and profound piece of literature I have read this year.

RATING: A Wool New Kind of Reading Experience


About Robbie

Hi there, my name is Robbie Burns (no,really, that’s my name…hold the haggis jokes please) and I would like to welcome you to the Pink Sheep Cafe. I started this blog as a means of discussing books and all things literary in light of my perpetual isolation. At the time I began writing, I was living in Split, Croatia. There wasn’t much here in the way of English book clubs and I couldn’t work, so I badly needed something to help me bide my time. My partner and I have since left Croatia and returned to Canada to live in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. When we first moved back here, my blog writing sort of fell by the wayside, but now I seem to be back on track. I try to read and review a little bit of everything here; I think everyone can find something to their liking here. I find myself tending more towards more literary reads these days, but I also enjoy a lot of YA and children’s fiction. One of my ongoing goals is to work my way through all of the Nobel Laureates. My two most favorite authors are Timothy Findley and Halldor Laxness.
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5 Responses to London Triptych – Jonathan Kemp – Book Review

  1. Lydia says:

    I can sympathize. I’ve been running into such lackluster reads lately so that when I picked up a random book and was totally transfixed by it, it was like night and day.

  2. amymckie says:

    Ooohhh this is the book that you nominated for the Indie Lit Awards GLBTQ category yes? I’m on the judging panel and looking forward to reading all of the books. I’ve been finding, reading through the ones I’ve been able to track down so far, that they are all really great books! Can’t wait to read this myself.

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