Brett Walker 15 February 2012 - 3:11pm
Edmund White is back with a book that has to be one of his best.
Jack Holmes and His Friend is, quite simply, one of the most powerful yet simple books he has written. The story splits into three parts - first narrated by Jack Holmes, a brooding, repressed personality at the cusp of coming out, who falls in love for the first time with a straight man, Will. Will narrates the second part, before we return to Jack in the present day.
What ensues is a relationship that crosses the boundaries of predictable gay love and moves into a friendship akin to that which anyone could experience. Jack moves effortlessly within the social ranks of high society, and you can almost feel a sense of Truman Capote in his writing style. Jack stumbles around with unknown direction, embarking on a series of encounters that lead him ultimately to his realisation of being gay.
The story spans the 1960s, 70s and 80s and is set in a New York that has yet to accept out-and-out homosexuals. Edmund White captures the 'street', the feelings of a struggling gay society forced into back street bars - a world that has yet to embrace the acceptance of homosexuals. White's depiction of his characters is stunning; you feel the warmth of each, their coldness and their inner battles with their demons. It has an almost epic feel, moving through the decades, and what follows is a mirror image of emotion with Jack struggling to find his place in society and Will endeavouring to discover just what is means to be sexually attractive - a reflection brought about by their unique friendship.
The depiction of a non-traditional love affair - but a love affair nonetheless - really gives strength to this novel. It is the constant that gives Jack and Will hope for a better future, despite the falls, the affairs and the heartaches. It is touching, enthralling, humorous, relevant and one of the greatest pieces of gay literary fiction that has been written for quite some time.