'I am sixteen. I am as old as the century' It is 1916. Vincent is sixteen, on the brink of manhood. Vincent is aristocratic and privileged, frequenting the salons of Paris while France is at war and the city almost deserted of men. In that brutal summer, Vincent's beauty and precocity captivate two men: Marcel, some thirty years his senior, a writer and celebrated socialite; and Arthur, the twenty-one year old son of one of the servants, who is now a soldier at the front. Both relationships become love affairs of a kind - of the mind or of the body. Vincent intuitively tries to keep his passions separate, but over the weeks of indolent Parisian summer and far-off war, confidences are made, absences endured, secrets revealed. All of these men will suffer, and Vincent will lose the last vestiges of his childhood innocence. In the Absence of Men is a stunning first novel: in its daring in representing Marcel Proust as a character, in the beauty of its prose and in its delicacy of feeling. It is a quite remarkable debut.
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(198mm x 129mm x 10mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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UK Kirkus Review »
In this stunning first novel Besson marries love, time and war with overwhelming poignancy. Upper-class Vincent stands on the cusp of adulthood. He reaches maturity by way of two extraordinary relationships: a possessive friendship with Marcel Proust and a passionate love affair with Arthur, the son of his governess. Proust expands Vincent's imagination whilst Arthur unlocks his sensuality. The relationships develop over one week in the middle of the First World War, as Arthur's imminent return to the Front gives the present a blazing immediacy. Besson's depiction of love is exceptional. Within a short novel, he encompasses a huge range of feeling. The intense passion between Vincent and Arthur is beautiful, more so because it allows an escape from the ugliness of the age, and the intellectual love affair with Proust is convincingly pure. Besson's prose, seamlessly translated, is forceful in its understatement. Alongside the torrents of emotion, Besson includes some mischievous literary pastiche. The allusions to La Recherche are playful: many of Proust's ideas are inverted by Vincent's love of the present. Besson also jousts with Proust when he shows the stark extremity of maternal feeling. The novel is divided into three sections which chart the trajectory of intense, doomed love. The epistolary second section brings war crashing into the drawing rooms and restaurants of the Parisian elite. After the grace and passion of the first section, this is an impressive shock. The final section's focus on Arthur's mother seems odd until Besson delivers a wrenching twist. It is this twist which sustains the novel against the inevitability of Arthur's fate. Going to the heart of man, Besson evokes the solitude of war and the substance of love with real mastery. This is a hauntingly elegant and brutal debut. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Phillipe Besson
Philippe Besson is the author of two novels, En L'Absence des hommes and Mon Fr-re. He was born in 1967 in Charente and now lives in Paris.