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LGBT / Romance
This review must come with a gentle warning that the novel contains descriptions of male love and some explicit language.
Benjamin and Edgar live in London in the mid to late eighteenth century with their parents, a Welshman who owns a passenger line operating between London and New York, and their dedicated but mysterious mother. She's mysterious in that they know nothing about her and this only seems to bother Benjamin. Their mother is the architect of their isolated education as she trains them to be Good Englishmen but in keeping them from the world, even requiring two twenty-somethings to request if they may go to bed, sending them out into the world on the Grand Tour (they are not poor) was never going to end well. Filled with knowledge about the world but never having really lived in it, their expectations will be challenged.
Paris brings the expected pleasures and then some unexpected revelations about the mother that Edgar views as little short of saintly, shake the foundations of their world and a rebuttal that hurts sends them onwards, to Aosta in Italy, a place you never linger, and there Benjamin meets Horace Lavelle, an exotic, gilded young man, who dazzles Benjamin with his beauty and unconventional outlook on the world. Acerbic, cutting, but also charming and seductive, Benjamin doesn't stand a chance. Edgar takes immediately against his brother's new friend and Benjamin has to make a choice that will alter everything they have ever known or been led to believe about the world.
A Grand Tour indeed, Neil Blackmore takes us through Europe with delightful detail and precise description that conjures a past world and paints an exotic backdrop to a passionate and ultimately tragic love story. Even London is explored, the Good parts and the Bad, a London that few would recognise if dropped in the middle of it.
However, the reader is left with the knowledge that, despite all the revelations, all the sacrifices and deep and meaningful conversations, Benjamin is entirely deceived by Horace. The love is one sided and Benjamin never quite sees that - he almost gets there, and always draws back, maybe because it is too painful for him to consider. He is blinded by the beauty of his friend, and fails to recognise, or, at least, acknowledge, the mercenary nature of Horace. Horace's refusal to tell Benjamin he loves him is quite telling and is entirely due to Benjamin's parents' wealth and not any great feeling for the man himself - he has proved that he will say and do anything for money. In that, the end of the novel is quite sad, that Benjamin is constantly craving something that never was, beyond his own mind. It is his feelings of love he misses, not Horace's, not his emotional love, in any case.
Interesting, certainly, a glorious peek into a bygone world, although the ending was perhaps rather rushed and a tad obvious and maybe a little unfinished - but then life doesn't always tie off its loose ends.
A charming novel, beautifully written, and the sexual content is more delicate than it could have been, rendering it rather sensual.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
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