The House on Brooke Street

Neil Bartlett, Author
Neil Bartlett, Author Dutton Books $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-525-94273-3
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
The author of the headily baroque Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall returns with a similarly overwrought novel played in a minor key. The story here opens in London in 1953, as a department store clerk, Mr. Page, eschewing his usual elaborate, lonely Christmas dinner (""except the drink""), opens his diary to describe his relations, 30 years ago, with the aristocratic Clive B. Vivian. Although Bartlett interpolates historical information into the novel, the dominant voice is Page's, rendered with a sharp ear for irony and pathos. The plot, by contrast, is deliberately murky. As the story unfolds, and the diary entries grow more forthcoming, we learn that the plebeian Page and the aristocratic Vivian are physical doubles, sharing even the same birthday (""You're my long-lost twin,"" one says to the other); that each is ambivalent about his homosexuality; and that both are infatuated with Vivian's servant, the white-blond Gabriel, who's 19. Bartlett's doppelgangers-and their obsessive and ultimately destructive relationship-seem intended to dramatize the psychic price one pays for living in an oppressive, homophobic society. Yet this novel is populated not with compelling presences but with stereotypes-the decadent aristocrat, the bibulous gay man trapped in the closet, the innocent-seeming blond object of desire with the name of an angel. Even Bartlett's clever linguistic and narrative gamesmanship can't bring these puppets fully to life. (Jan.)
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