The Beautiful Room is Empty
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The Beautiful Room is Empty (The Edmund Trilogy #2)

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  1,473 ratings  ·  68 reviews
When the narrator of White's poised yet scalding autobiographical novel first embarks on his sexual odyssey, it is the 1950s, and America is "a big gray country of families on drowsy holiday." That country has no room for a scholarly teenager with guilty but insatiable stirrings toward other men. Moving from a Midwestern college to the Stonewall Tavern on the night of the...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 4th 1994 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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Maurice by E.M. ForsterBrokeback Mountain by Annie ProulxThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGiovanni's Room by James BaldwinTales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Best Gay Fiction
61st out of 1,030 books — 1,245 voters
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroEverything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'ConnorAre You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom StoppardWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Titlemania III: Whole-Sentence Titles
62nd out of 650 books — 75 voters

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Community Reviews

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mark monday
White’s follow-up to A Boy's Own Story is an admirable effort. The language is still extraordinary. The various episodes recounted in the author’s life are certainly free from sentiment – if anything, the author leans towards self-evisceration and distance. Perhaps this absence of nostalgia is what makes the book rather off-putting. In A Boy’s Own, the style was eye-opening. In Beautiful Room, at times it feels a little too self-consciously alienated, as if edmund white himself is fearful of rev...more
May 30, 2011 Paul rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
This is a beautifully written memoir of Edmund going to college and being as gay as it was possible to be, in fact constantly attempting to invent even gayer things to do and to be.

This book is hilarious. I think it helps to have a wicked sense of humour if you're in a despised minority (so on that logic war criminals must be a real tonic to be around.)

This is not from the book but I remember a news programme from way back, when Aids was at its height. The Queen visited some hospital or anothe...more
Edmund White's writing style is more or less a series of incredibly vivid vignettes linked together through simple chronology. And while the individual events, memories and musings are often beautiful in and of themselves, it has a curiously monotone effect after a while, almost like banging the same chords on a piano over and over--not even the most gorgeous notes can sustain their impact if piled on top of each other with nothing between to showcase their individual merit. That said, White's n...more

This novel, although I suppose it is usually categorized under gay fiction, is an excellent coming of age novel that picks at the conservative Midwestern society of the late 50s and ends up describing both the promises and failures of New York City in the early to mid 60s. If I had discovered this book in high school, I would have fallen in love with all of the characters and over-identified with their struggle to live as their true selves, although I would have been horrified by the anonymous b...more
You know how you can be doing some mundane task and all of a sudden a random memory just surfaces? For a while you are just reliving that moment and maybe you even smile because that line between the physical and mental world is blurred enough to allow you to.

That’s sort of the effect this book has left on me.

The Beautiful Room Is Empty is one of the few books that left me with very distinct scenes, as if Edmund White’s memories are now mine.

Edmund White is a very talented writer; I think tha...more
You got to atleast give Edmund White credit for crafting such strong visuals regarding sex and the male form: "revealing a hairless chest marbled by blue veins and decorated like a piece of wedding cake with two candle sockets in pink frosting--the erect nipples" (pg. 178).
"..untidy Minnie Mouse with big thighs of mushroom pallor." (pg. 175).
"the tan line suggested poolside swimsuit, frosted glass, sunglasses....But the hickory-hard straining of this cock upward spelled animal--a straight line...more
The title is not a line from a scene in the book. Perhaps it's a warning?

I'm no great fan of autobiography but this is one of the best tooled autobiographies. I've ever read. My problem with the book is that it seems to meander through comonplace events that have been told in more engaging ways elsewhere. No matter how nice the cup, poor coffee is still poor coffee. The writing here is excellent and at times brilliant but the story itself is unengaging.

While it deals with one man's journey from...more
Oct 23, 2010 A rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: read-2010
Titling your novel "The Beautiful Room is Empty" is really asking for it, and this book unfortunately lives up to the insult of its title. The luminous, mordantly insightful writing style White is known for is in full flower here, but it all unspools across the page with no purpose, no heart. The deeply moving emotional bedrock you usually feel grounding you so powerfully while wandering through White's patented haze of romantic, vaguely connected set pieces seemed totally lacking here. The endi...more
I felt like I needed some gay literature in my life and was hoping for a dramatized historical fiction that would be perhaps heartwrenching or informative or something. The character was neither likeable, lovable, hatable, or commendable. I had a hard time reading the book because I didn't care what happened to the main character, or even the supporting characters. The last 50 pages were good. All the others I felt were on the verge of poor writing. At least foggy - I felt like the plot had no d...more
i cried on the subway.
a lot of people discredit this book, saying it is not a novel, that it is a thinly veiled autobiography, that the narrator is hard to love. all of these things may be true, but take away from the fact at hand: this is really good writing. the first time "searing" has ever come to mind to describe something i've read. from "i did not travel." on page 223, i don't think i breathed at all while reading the last six pages. sadly, the beautiful room is, in fact, empty - thank go...more
Not the sort of book I would have read many years ago when it was first published (1988), or indeed reissued (1994 in this one). My own trajectory through these images of relationships has been between the forcefulness of others insisting that their stereotypes of experience are ones that I should also be confronted with, as they were.
This has lead to my own resistance.
Now I find I can more easily read the work of Edmund White directly and see how gently he unfolds the resistances and the forces...more
Exquisitely written with unbelievable characterisation, this book is poignant and tragic while being beautiful at the same time. The narrator, living at a time when homosexuality was seen as a disease which could be cured, battles continuously with his own sexuality and his belief that he will ultimately be cured of it. He doesn't see himself as worthy of love, and when he does fall in love at the end of the book, the relationship ends because both men can't shake this belief that their homosexu...more
Steve Woods
This is the second of White's trilogy that I have read, one to go and I am truly looking forward to it. The first A Boys Own Story left me breathless, I have very rarely seen anyone who can work with the English language to such effect. There is not a wasted word anywhere and the strength of characterisation is such that I felt much of the time, so very identified with the main character. Visceral and disturbing at times, it is certainly those things but then the agony of this boys struggle with...more
I think I give White the benefit of the doubt because (a) "City Boy" is so great; and (b) he's a queermo, like me. But in point of fact, neither of his novels that I've read were really that fabulous. Maybe this is a lil' whiff of my latent snobbery coming out, but I found this and "A Boy's Own Story" to be glorified erotica, rather than a measured exploration of queer subjectivity in the mid-century cultural and political American context. And I can't figure if I'm a snob or if White toots his...more
so much better than his first in the trilogy of novels about growing up gay. maybe i liked it better because it seemed more autobiographical and less literary. it was beautifully written, and managed to portray this man's brutally honest thoughts/feelings about his college/formative years. i'm proud to say that he follows in a long line of famous, distinguished ohio authors.

this book also helped me realize that i take part in a specific subculture that i sometimes have a hard time explaining to...more
Dusty Myers
It’s a shame that White is our Updike, which is to say that he’s our learned and well read and omnipresent white-male writer born decades ago whom we are meant to revere solely because of his status and age and productivity. It means that I have to read the final book of the trilogy, The Farewell Symphony, which I’m hoping to god is a lot more palatable.

The problem with these novels is that they aren’t novels. They’re memoirs labeled as novels at a time, I imagine, when the memoir wasn’t as mar...more
Nicely turned phrases and descriptions.
Not a novel.
Great title.*

Considering I can find only half a dozen works by him, I do wonder why he is so famous. Like other autobiographies, eg. Fry's, the author is rather unlikeable. As with other books I read recently, I have no more sympathy left for needing to have sex with literally hundreds of different men, as if straight people had that option. As with "Surprising Myself", the protagonist moves to NY and wastes time there reading and fucking, but n...more
Not really a memoir, although it draws strongly from White's personal life. I wish I had read this in sequence. From what I understand, this is part two of a trilogy (beginning with 'A Boy's Own Story' and ending with 'The Final Symphony' - I think) based on White's realization that he is a homosexual in childhood, awkward coming out in adolescence, and entrance into early adulthood in Greenwich Village of New York City.

This book in the series opens with his final years of prep school, before t...more
Jared Tester

Given this book's serious subject, (life as a closeted gay man in 1960s-right up to Stonewall-New York City) I was bothered by White's prose style here, which seemed so low on drama that it was tossed-off in a rush. What drama there is is in the fact that the main character comports himself more like an observer than an active participant in his own story. Indeed, the real fireworks come when the protagonist describes what people he knows are going through in their lives. Still, White cover...more
I picked this up b/c it has been on my list to read for a while. A friend of mine who I once respected revered White so he was sort of in my mind as something I should read. Something important that if I wanted to consider myself a lettered homosexual, I should be at least passingly familiar with White. Reflecting on it now that I am older and less impressed by so called intelligence it makes sense that he would be a White fan. He was both cowardly, fickle and self-loathing. I thought White over...more
Cath Murphy
I had low expectations of this book. It has the word 'beautiful' in the title and that's never a good sign. Oh oh, I think. Alan Hollinghurst again. Two hours of tooth gritting boredom while my inner PC policeperson tells me I'm only hating this because of all the gay sex.

Happily, Edmund White isn't Alan Hollinghurst. He has a far lighter touch, by which I mean he doesn't attempt to make points. He just writes about himself and does it beautifully. There isn't much of a story, but I didn't feel...more
Dec 04, 2009 Kevin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: queer
A quasi-autobiographical profile of an upper-middle class gay man growing up in the fifties and sixties. The novel spans his mid-teenage years to his late twenties. It reads almost episodically, and for a while I was concerned that it didn't seem to be building towards anything, but now it seems to me that the book is largely about homosexuality before there was any sense of community or a political movement to it. Knowing that this time span includes the years in the run-up to the AIDS outbreak...more
- The book was alright. White's writing style bothers me at times because it is, as he says in the book, braided together. Thoughts flow in between each other. I can handle non-linear writing but I've seen other authors do it better.

- It was interesting to hear about the homosexual culture in Chicago and New York during the 50s/60s but there were parts I just didn't understand. Like the focus on them being like so much like women. Maybe it's because I live in a different time period where gender...more
Too much the epitome of "white" bitter homosexuals who hate themselves and others who are more open and natural about who they are attracted to. Nothing of love in this story. Just the parametres of self-loathing which substantiates why many people dislike and disrespect gays. They think they are all this like stereotype! (Incidentally it's why I didn't like "Brokeback Mountain" either!)

I gave it two stars and not one because at the same time this is true. There are lots of bitter, only interest...more
I appreciate being allowed the intimacy of reading this book. The tale is about coming of age and coming to terms with oneself and one's sexuality. This books takes the reader on a graphic, poignant, and challenging journey alongside a young homosexual teen as he becomes an adult. The reader is able to feel the deep levels of ambivalence of growing up gay in the 1960s and 1970s, when being homosexual was considered an illness, even by the homosexuals, and also the burgeoning joy as being homosex...more
OK, I loved the writing - he is capable of building and perfecting imagery with words. The book is however for me very depressing as its subject matter seems focused on the negative, the shallow, the unfeeling side of the gay experience.

I remember a newspaper review that said the title was an image representative of the book. Excellent, often beautiful creative writing which somehow leaves the reader feeling alienated and rejected. Not a book where you can easily identify with or even like the...more
Jun 09, 2008 Meridith rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Joe Massey
The second of Edmund White's memoir-slash-novelistic, coming-out while coming-of-age trilogy. A wonderful read. The boy of A Boy's Own Life maneuvers boarding school in a stateside, Midwest parallel to Manchester schools, channeling Morrissey big-time. Only with sex. Way more sex. An amazing tale of a kid realizing & flexing his adolescent power to manipulate adults, with only a dim awareness of his market value as rough trade. You're behind him on every page—-in more ways than one. But seri...more
There wasn't a line in this book I didn't enjoy reading. White is such a gifted writer, the whole piece seems to flow as one moveable force, regardless of the ever changing content.
I first read this book about twenty years ago. Recently, it called to me again from my bookshelf. The language is often prose poetry, filled with honesty and humor. When I first read it so long ago, it was an awakening. Now, it's like meeting with an old friend to share fond memories.
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Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and, most recently, his memoir, My Lives. Having lived in Paris for many years, he is now a New Yorker and teaches at Princeton University. He was also a membe...more
More about Edmund White...
A Boy's Own Story The Flaneur The Married Man Jack Holmes and His Friend The Farewell Symphony

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