Friday, March 29, 2013
History of a Pleasure Seeker - Review
Author: Richard Mason
Piet Barol, the titular pleasure seeker, is a priapic, ambitious young man come to seek his fortune in belle époque Amsterdam. Unlike Frédéric Moreau in Flaubert's L'Éducation sentimentale (to which this book owes no meagre debt), Piet is magnificently gifted, not only "extremely attractive to most women and to many men," but also a fine pianist, draughtsman and lover. We first meet him interviewing for the role of tutor to the son of the wealthy hotelier, Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts. All is not well in his gilded household. Egbert, the son, is agoraphobic. The matriarch, Jacobina, hasn't been touched by her husband in almost a decade. Into this highly strung atmosphere comes Piet, charged with the task of freeing Egbert from his paralysing fear of the outside world. We soon realise, however, that Egbert isn't the only one in need of help. Piet sets about liberating the libidos of the repressed family through music – championing bawdy Bizet over abstract Bach – and oral sex. While the setting is Dutch, the influences are French – think Bel-Ami, Les Liaisons dangereuses and Gide's L'Immoraliste.
I had so many thoughts on this book, that I wrote them down, and took them to book club with me. I am not sure where to even start.
Let me start with Piet - a supposed hedonist, but I found his version watered down and joyless. I was comparing him to Dorian Gray, and he just didn't measure up in the hedonist category. I thought a hedonist was supposed to revel in their pleasures, but I thought Piet was like whatever about it all. Like if it happened cool, if not, then whatever. I didn't feel that he received any happiness or joy from much, not really. Maybe over winning or succeeding in something he put his mind to doing. But otherwise I found him lacking self confidence and empty. His relationship with Egbert and Maarten were the most real, in my opinion. He cared for them and what they thought, and not just for the sake of wanting anyone to think highly of him. Piet did have his moments however - he did magically "cure" Egbert's OCD, and let Didier down gently.
I found it slightly absurd that every male in this book instantly wanted to have sex with Piet. It just became unsurprising, and I think we were supposed to feel more than, oh of course, another dude wants Piet, with an eye roll. Every male servant in the house he worked in, then every guy he met on the cruise.
Did I like this book? I did. I liked the first part of the book, and Piet's interactions with the family. There is a scene where he gets in over his head with the daughters, who are smart and and kind of like mean girls- they set Piet up, and he inevitably fails, miserably. I felt this was the scene we learned the most about the character Piet. The girls were the most lively characters in the book, witty, smart, sassy.
This book definitely gives you something to talk about. It was an interesting choice.
Jill listened to this book with an interactive Apple app - the book was also read by Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey if you are a fan.