Edmund White - Jack Holmes and His Friend (4 stars)

A beautifully written tale of sex and male friendship

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Edmund White - Jack Holmes and His Friend

(Bloomsbury)

Edmund White has never shied away from putting himself on the page, scribing autobiographical fiction and memoirs for over 30 years. Jack Holmes and His Friend is no exception. White attended boarding school in the American Midwest, studied Chinese at the University of Michigan in the late 1950s, worked as a journalist in New York City in the 60s and, following years of promiscuity, dedicates time and effort to AIDS charities. So too Jack Holmes.

But while the line between where White ends and Holmes begins is blurred, the book’s eponymous character has a set of emotions and traumas all his own. Not least his heartfelt, but fruitless love for Will Wright – the ‘friend’ – whose voice delivers almost half the novel. Intriguingly, the sections seen through Holmes’ eyes are written in the third person, while the pages dedicated to Wright are in the first, perhaps affording White more distance from the character we’ll all assume is based on him. Despite this disparity, both men are imbued with enough detail to make them live and breath: the outward traits of Jack revealed during Will’s chapters, the inner hopes and fears reserved for his own and vice versa.

The disparate sexual exploits of Holmes and Wright – one gay, the other straight – takes up much of White’s time. Graphic details are readily forthcoming, be it between a man and woman, two men or a combination of the two at an orgy. And why not? White writes sex well, without a hint of toe-curling cliché. Indeed, in the absence of page-turning reveals, twists or turns, sex in a changing world is the wave that this poetic and beautifully written tale of male friendship coasts along on.

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