Jonathan Kemp’s London Triptych is Jonathan Kemp’s first novel. First published in the UK, it won the Authors’ Club’s Best First Novel Award in 2010 and Kemp has since written two other books, one collection of short fiction and one non-fiction book about the history of male sexuality.
The story follows the lives of three gay men in three different time periods in London, England. Jack Rose is an irreverent and unapologetic male prostitute in the 1890’s who eventually encounters and establishes a relationship with one of history’s greatest writers. Colin is a tortured artist in the 1950s who wrestles with his feelings about his new young model. David dances on the line between love and lust amid the grunge scene of the 1980s.
Kemp has a knack for creating endearing characters. From the first chapter I found myself wondering what would happen next to each of these fellows. A few of my friends who read the book at the same time found the constant switching between time periods frustrating, but for me it had the desired effect. It felt a bit like those dark days before on-demand video streaming when one might try watching three equally good television programs at the same time. Of course I wasn’t entirely pleased with how life turned out for each of those characters, but such is life –and literature.
One of my friends thought it was nightmarish, another perceived passages of it as erotica. There may have been something to this perception, Kemp’s next book, Twentysix (2011), is exactly that. Sorry, not available at the GPL… yet. A third friend made comment about how much the characters developed and changed over the course of the story. I didn’t feel like the characters were given opportunity to change and grow enough; one storyline in particular I felt was cut off just as the character started getting interesting. All this is to say, I was much more confident about how to review this book before I asked the options of others.
Bottom line: three interesting characters in three distinct historical periods whose lives interweave in surprising ways. And not a long read to find out if you like it or not. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.