THE NEW LIFE is a debut novel by a young English writer who has all the gifts—a distinctive, pitch-perfect style; a vast erudition, solid and detailed, about his period, the 1890s, including a doctorate from Cambridge in 19th-century British history; a dramatic feel for the history of ideas; a deep psychological grasp of his male and female characters; a gift for determining which details should be observed and which trimmed away. And the wonderful Victorian art of entertaining while edifying.
This novel, unlike Victorian fiction, is full of explicit sexuality. The opening scene will cost gay male readers gallons of cum and excite a few women, perhaps. John Addington, a solid citizen in his fifties, is standing behind another man in a crowded train car—so crowded that he is pressed against the man’s buttocks and can’t move an inch. He gets an erection and the man begins deliberately to move his ass against Addington’s cock. Soon John comes cataclysmically—and wakes up beside his wife, Catherine. He sneaks off to hide his semen-heavy nightshirt in the dirty laundry.
We’re introduced to Henry Ellis, his collaborator, through another solitary, inadmissible kink. He’s turned on by the thought of women urinating, which he discovers when he sees a female vagrant pissing outside his windows.
Edmund White is the author of the forthcoming novel The Humble Lover. His A Boy’s Own Story will soon be published as a graphic novel.
My only regret in listening to the audiobook is that I couldn’t write down some of the most lyrical and brilliant metaphors — thank you, Edmund White, for citing a few. Another problem with listening (mostly) at the gym was the unexpected flowing of the blood to the nether regions that occurred during some of the exquisitely erotic yet somehow restrained sexual passages. I’ve cited his book on a substack thread about how to write sex; “Like Tom Crewes!” (Freddie Fox did an excellent narration.)
The New Life went immediately onto my top 5 list of favorite books. Bravo, Tom.