by Adam Mars-Jones
Faber & Faber. 525 pages, $21.
JOHN CROMER, the hero of Pilcrow, Adam Mars-Jones’ new novel, is the son of a British Air Commander father and a snobby mother who’s insecure about her class standing. Born after World War II, John attends British boarding schools, where he suffers at the hands of two sadistic attendants and a couple of school bullies, but basks in the appreciation of teachers, parents, and school chums. At the end of Pilcrow, John has lost his virginity and gained a sense of himself and his powers. This is pretty standard fare for such Victorian sagas as Tom Brown’s School Days. What makes Pilcrow different from the legion of English coming-of-age novels is not that John is gay, which is by now part of the territory, but that John is severely disabled—so disabled that even sitting in a wheelchair is a major physical accomplishment.