“London Triptych” by Jonathan Kemp— Finally Available in North America


Kemp, Jonathan. “London Triptych”, Arsenal Pulp. 2013..

A Secret History Revealed

Amos Lassen

Every once in a while I am lucky enough to get to read something that our British brothers write and while this book is not yet available in the States, perhaps if we make enough noise it will be. This is Jonathan Kemp’s first novel and I bow to him for what he has given us. Set in London, the story is actually set in three very different Londons and is about three very different affairs and all is tied together by a multi-layered secret. The novel looks at how gay men’s lives change over time. Spanning over a hundred years, it is Kemp’s brilliant dialogue that pulls us in holds us. His characters are realistic and we believe them and they make us think. The prose is perfect and the novel is written in gorgeous language.

We go into the lives of British male prostitutes and become part of their secret history as we hear about them from three different men from three different periods in history. It is through them that we enter the dark and wonderful underworld of gay London. Using the themes of exploitation and betrayal we see the dark side of gay life and even when we realize that this is a book about freedom and liberation, the darkness actually becomes a bit lighter. Contrasting living an illegal life style with the lives of the aristocracy, we move from gritty to posh and we see that no matter when we live, our sentiments do not change—turmoil and distrust, stigma and loss and love unfulfilled seems to be part of gay life at each period in history. I must say that this is very ambitious for a first novel.

We begin with Jack Rose in the 1890’s who learns about rent boys shortly after taking a job as a telegraph boy. Jack meets some fascinating people including Oscar Wilde. We then move to the 1950’s and meet Colin Reed, a 54 year old artist who has urges when he draws male nudes. One of his models shows him the pleasures of gay sex and liberates him sexually but to a tragic end. Finally we move to the 1990’s and meet the hedonistic David, a rent boy who loves and lives for drugs and sex. Our three men are brought together by commonalities and among those commonalities is the need for sex. Hopefully all of us will be able to read this here soon. If not you can always get it online but it is a book you will love.

This will finally be available in North America thanks to Arsenal Pulp Press.

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