'There is a deceptively relaxed quality to Kemp's writing that is disarming, bewitching and, to be honest, more than a little sexy... akin to the Pied Piper, if only because there is something magical you cannot help but follow.'—Polari magazine
Read an extract
Rent boys, aristocrats, artists and criminals populate this award-winning novel as Jonathan Kemp skilfully interweaves the lives and loves of three very different men across the decades.
Jack Rose begins his apprenticeship as a rent boy with Alfred Taylor in the 1890s, and discovers a life of pleasure and excess that leads him to new friendships, most notably with the soon-to-be infamous Oscar Wilde. A century later, David tells his own tale of unashamed decadence while waiting to be released from prison, addressing his story to the lover who betrayed him. Where their paths cross, in the politically sensitive 1950s when gay men were the target of police and politicians alike, artist Colin tentatively explores his sexuality as he draws in preparation for his most ambitious painting yet—‘London Triptych’.
Moodily atmospheric and rich with history, London Triptych is a sexy, resplendent portrait of the politics and pleasures of queer life in one of the world’s most fascinating cities.
Jonathan Kemp is also the author of Twentysix (Myriad, 2011) and Ghosting (Myriad, 2015).
Ambar Shail Chatterjee, bookstagrammer8 July 2020
‘“Oh, the rules of love,” he sighed. “It takes us a lifetime to learn them and when we do we find we no longer wish to play the game...”’
In silken prose, @jonathanmkemp conjures three vivid scenarios of gay life in London, each set in a different era: in the 1890s, Jack, a young male prostitute, is drawn into the orbit of Oscar Wilde at the height of the latter’s popularity; in the 1950s, Colin, a closeted middle-aged artist, finds himself in thrall to a beautiful young man; in the 1990s, David, awaiting release from prison, pines for the lover who betrayed him. Each of these men will experience an all-consuming love, and each will confront its devastating consequences.
“London Triptych” is a dark, unexpectedly visceral novel in which the city itself becomes a character: a bustling metropolis that offers anonymity and refuge just as often as it inflicts hardship and despair. Moreover, the novel remarkably reimagines and reclaims the secret history of the clandestine gay experience—its fleeting thrills and oppressive dangers, its grim sense of lonely dissipation and frequent exploitation—at a time when homosexuality was considered taboo (an aspect of queer history for which archival sources are sparse).
Despite a few moments that somewhat jarred and certain plot developments that one felt could have been fleshed out more satisfyingly, there is lots to admire here. The gorgeously supple sentences, laced with savvy insight, are a treat. And the narrative soars to a rousing conclusion without resorting to easy outcomes for its three protagonists. I definitely intend to seek out more of Kemp's books.
Times Don't Change, bookstagrammer11 June 2020
Challenge #LeMoisAnglais : Londres en littérature...
Il en faut parfois peu pour me donner envie de lire un livre, mais inclure Oscar Wilde à la liste des protagonistes est l'un des meilleurs moyens pour y parvenir. Par chance, les livres associés à ce critère souvent bons, et "London Triptych" ne fait pas exception à la règle.
Je ne m'attendais pas à quelque chose d'aussi cru, ayant lu le résumé suffisamment vite pour passer à côté du fait qu'on allait suivre le parcours de trois "rent boys" londoniens à différentes époques (l'auteur à également publié des nouvelles érotiques et ça se sent), mais le roman va bien au delà de cet aspect et j'ai beaucoup aimé la minutie de sa construction ainsi que le soin apporté aux différents personnages.
Un bel hommage à la vie et à l'œuvre d'Oscar Wilde, à son influence aussi, et un très bon livre tout simplement.
(More explicit than I thought but brilliantly constructed, a magnificent study of characters and a love letter to Oscar's art and life)
Erotica for the Big Brain20 December 2016
Jonathan Kemp’s 2010 debut novel comes as close to what I would call a complete work of art as anything I have encountered so far this century. London Triptych
is a at once a poignant and sympathetically observed character study, a compelling work of historical fiction comprising trenchant social critique, and a vivid evocation of the eternally-unfinished, perpetually renewed and renewing city of its title. Here, the stories of three gay men from three different times play out and sometimes overlap; Jack Rose, a young rent boy in the late Victorian period, Colin Read, an artist in the cruelly closeted 1950s, and David, a male prostitute, writing a letter to his lover and betrayer from a prison cell in 1998--a poignant echo of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis
from a century earlier.
Jack’s search for pleasure and profit lead him into the shabby, exuberant demimonde of queer life in 1890s’ London, where he eventually meets an aging Wilde. Lonely and still deeply naïve at fifty-four, Colin lives a severely buttoned-up existence, in constant fear of being found out, only to be coaxed out of his shell by, Gregory (Gore) a beautiful young model. Growing up in the 1980s, David escapes the stifling conformity of small-town life to seek fortune and adventure in the city as a prostitute and porn actor. The three stories are neatly tied together by Gore, who, in the 1950s is acquainted with Jack, a man by then in his seventies. Gore goes on to become one of young David’s clients in the 1990s.)
The stories may be as striking for their similarities as their differences: each of these characters makes the ultimate mistake of falling in love where love is forbidden or simply foolish, inevitably leading to betrayal and desolation. There are no happy endings, but only life continuing for better or for worse—fiction is seldom more real than this.
As readers have come to expect, Kemp’s writing is gorgeous, clear and confident with a rich vein of metaphor, often approaching the poetic, yet never becoming overly effusive or strained. Seldom has a debut novel been so well organized or cleverly thought out with such near-perfect economy of expression, eschewing the inessential so as to evoke a world like no other.