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How terribly kind

Edmund White: Gilbert and George, 1 July 1999

Gilbert & George: A Portrait 
by Daniel Farson.
HarperCollins, 240 pp., £19.99, March 1999, 0 00 255857 2
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... Daniel Farson was polite, self-deprecating, impressed by modesty and authenticity, grateful for favours, careful to keep track when it was his turn to buy drinks (which he often did). Gilbert and George, by contrast, are utterly stylised: they speak in relays, move like robots and strongly hint that there is no within within. This book, left incomplete at the time of Farson’s death and tidied up by Robert Violette, is touching and illuminating in part because there is such a mismatch between the author and his subjects ...

Sinister Blandishments

Edmund White: Philip Hensher, 3 September 1998

Pleasured 
by Philip Hensher.
Chatto, 304 pp., £14.99, August 1998, 0 7011 6728 9
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... The perfect immaculate blankness of the space, set around with thirty great thick blank sheets of white stone, recording the triumph of Soviet armies, had its own beauty; the double fold of stone opening, like a vast voluptuous hard velvet curtain, before the theatre of the space, had its own pressing overpowering beauty; and the two kneeling heavily cloaked ...
Selected Poems 
by James Merrill.
Carcanet, 152 pp., £9.95, April 1996, 1 85754 228 2
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... chaos warbling in its wake, Assuming, like a fourth dimension, splendour That calls the child with white ideas of swans    Nearer to that green lake Where every paradox means wonder. The Mallarméan subject, though more accessible than in ‘Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui’, is every bit as immobilised; notice in the following lines ...

On the chance that a shepherd boy …

Edmund White: Gide in Love, 10 December 1998

Andre Gide: A Life in the Present 
by Alan Sheridan.
Hamish Hamilton, 708 pp., £25, October 1998, 0 241 12729 7
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Andre Gide ou la vocation du bonheur. Tome 1, 1869-1911 
by Claude Martin.
Fayard, 699 pp., frs 180, September 1998, 2 213 02309 3
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... against all comers; almost the only friend who saluted his action was the discreet 75-year-old Edmund Gosse, who said: ‘No doubt, in fifty years, this particular subject will cease to surprise anyone, and how many people in the past might wish to have lived in 1974.’ Gide’s moral campaigning didn’t end there. In the two books he wrote about his ...
... In the Seventies he took almost no interest in gay liberation, which he no doubt perceived as a white, middle-class movement, a matter of French domestic politics, at a time when his sole commitment was to the Black Panthers and the Palestinians. To add the final insult, he insisted in one of his last interviews that Freud was the most important friend to ...

Love Stories

Edmund White, 4 November 1993

To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life: A Novel 
by Hervé Guibert, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Quartet, 246 pp., £12.95, November 1991, 9780704370005
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The Man in the Red Hat 
by Hervé Guibert, translated by James Kirkup.
Quartet, 111 pp., £12.95, May 1993, 0 7043 7046 8
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The Compassion Protocol 
by Hervé Guibert, translated by James Kirkup.
Quartet, 202 pp., £13.95, October 1993, 9780704370593
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... story he’s cooked up to frighten himself. I own a Mapplethorpe photo of a French guy, a young white man, one of Mapplethorpe’s lovers. The picture was taken in the mid-Seventies, and it has the same density, the same specificity as Fou de Vincent. The man is as particularised, adored but not stylised, as Vincent, unlike Mapplethorpe’s totemic blacks ...

Plague Fiction

Charles Nicholl, 23 July 1987

The Darker Proof 
by Adam Mars-Jones and Edmund White.
Faber, 250 pp., £3.95, July 1987, 0 571 15068 3
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... just a good time. There was the failure of the scientists, the non-appearance of the antidote. The white-coated priests of the Eighties had failed us. The virus had the boffins beat. So suddenly we weren’t so sure. Suddenly it wasn’t just them any more. We were all at risk. You could get it in hospital from contaminated blood. You could get it if you were ...

What You Really Want

Adam Phillips: Edmund White, 3 November 2005

My Lives 
by Edmund White.
Bloomsbury, 356 pp., £17.99, September 2005, 0 7475 7522 3
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... not always clear whose lives they are. They can, of course, be claimed – you can call them, as Edmund White does in this autobiography, ‘my lives’ – but there are always counter-claims. What seemed most intimately one’s own can turn out to have been someone else’s all along. Being possessive doesn’t make one self-possessed, and ...

Mid-Century Male

Christopher Glazek: Edmund White, 19 July 2012

Jack Holmes and His Friend 
by Edmund White.
Bloomsbury, 390 pp., £18.99, January 2012, 978 1 4088 0579 4
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... The friend in the title of Edmund White’s new novel is a writer called Will Wright, a straight man with bad skin but a sterling pedigree. What little we learn about Will’s first novel – a metafictional romance about a man, the heiress he loves and an anthropomorphic cat – comes from Jack Holmes, a handsome, closeted editorial assistant who works with him at a literary quarterly in Manhattan ...

Apologising

James Wood, 24 August 1995

The Burning Library: Writings on Art, Politics, Sexuality 1969-93 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 385 pp., £20, May 1995, 0 330 33883 8
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Skinned Alive 
by Edmund White.
Chatto, 262 pp., £12.99, March 1995, 0 7011 6175 2
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... Edmund White has always struggled between appeasing the gods of his art and paying off the princelings of politics. Endearingly, and sometimes infuriatingly, he insists on doing both, and the result often leaves his pockets rather empty. Thus in his book of selected journalism, The Burning Library, he can move from a sublime celebration of Nabokov’s ‘greatness’ to a demand that ‘even the hierarchy inherent in the concept of a canon must be jettisoned ...

Life on the Town

Michael Wood, 22 May 1997

The Farewell Symphony 
by Edmund White.
Chatto, 504 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 0 7011 3621 9
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... Past is quietly deliberate, but of course the characters in Proust died of time, not of Aids. White wants to register the disaster, but refuses to memorialise the dead only as victims. The title of the novel, as we learn on one of the last pages, comes from Haydn: ‘I kept thinking of Haydn’s The Farewell Symphony. In the last movement more and more of ...

Adulterers’ Distress

Philip Horne, 21 July 1983

A Nail on the Head 
by Clare Boylan.
Hamish Hamilton, 135 pp., £7.95, July 1983, 0 241 11001 7
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New Stories 8: An Arts Council Anthology 
edited by Karl Miller.
Hutchinson, 227 pp., £8.95, May 1983, 9780091523800
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The Handyman 
by Penelope Mortimer.
Allen Lane, 199 pp., £6.95, May 1983, 0 7139 1364 9
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Open the Door 
by Rosemary Manning.
Cape, 180 pp., £7.95, June 1983, 0 224 02112 5
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A Boy’s Own Story 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 218 pp., £2.50, July 1983, 0 330 28151 8
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... radiant with its success there; its cover photograph shows a glamorous lad in a sports vest. Edmund White, once of Time magazine, co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex and only author of States of Desire: Travels in Gay America (1980), has written a first-person narrative of the childhood and adolescence of a male homosexual in Middle America. At the end ...

The Prisoner

Michael Wood, 10 June 1993

Genet 
by Edmund White.
Chatto, 820 pp., £25, June 1993, 9780701133979
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... never is, the thief would be a role, a figure in an elaborate social masque, an example of what Edmund White nicely calls ‘the theatricality of everyday life’. Much of what we are is performance, on or off stage. Genet enhances, stylizes this idea; insists on its ritual rather than its fictional aspects, so that social life begins to look not only ...

Gay’s the word

Hugo Williams, 6 November 1980

States of Desire: Travels in Gay America 
by Edmund White.
Deutsch, 336 pp., £5.95, August 1980, 9780233973012
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... our advertisements, like hermits going into caves.’ ‘A Buddhist vision, really,’ thinks White. Like their cars, gay Angeleans have to be well-built, if not actually foreign. They expect good mileage out of themselves, and easy handling. Mostly, they have traded in the fuel-guzzling, overly massive bodies of yesteryear for more practical economy ...

Last in the Funhouse

Patrick Parrinder, 17 April 1986

Gerald’s Party 
by Robert Coover.
Heinemann, 316 pp., £10.95, April 1986, 0 434 14290 5
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Caracole 
by Edmund White.
Picador, 342 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 330 29291 9
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Lake Wobegon Days 
by Garrison Keillor.
Faber, 337 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 571 13846 2
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In Country 
by Bobbie Ann Mason.
Chatto, 245 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 7011 3034 2
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... If this were to be the last of the funhouse novels I doubt if anyone would complain very much. Edmund White, Garrison Keillor and Bobbie Ann Mason belong to the generation of American writers born during the Second World War. White’s Caracole is set in an imaginary country, part European and part Third World, in ...

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