While England Sleeps
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While England Sleeps

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  875 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Leavitt has earned high praise for his empathetic portrayal of human sexuality and the complexities of intimate relationships. In While England Sleeps, available for the first time in two years, he moves beyond precisely controlled domestic drama to create a historical novel, set against the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, that tells a story of love and the violent chaos...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 25th 1998 by Abacus UK (first published January 1st 1993)
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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
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I may be adding this to my favorite shelf in the next couple days. Yes, this is a title parody of Winston Churchill's 1938 While England Slept. Leavitt's While England Sleeps takes place in 1936-1937 and focuses on a young man's coming to age story in London.

Brian Botsford, the main character, along with his Oxford classmates, Nigel, John, and Rupert are in a different caste and rebel for the cause against the rising Fascist power in Spain. Edward Phelan, with Communist beliefs, falls in love wi...more
Christy B
Initial reaction:

Argh, my heart.

Actual review:

Sometimes, when I finish a book, I loved it so much that I have to write a review right away, However, sometimes, a book affects me so, that I need a few days to decompress. This is the latter.

While England Sleeps takes place in 1930s Europe. It's told from the point of view of Brian Botsford, an upper class amateur writer, and tells of the relationship he has with Edward Phelan, a working class boy and Communist.

That's all you're getting out of me...more
Aleksandr Voinov
Enjoyed this.

Interesting plagiarism debate:

The plagiarised: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/04/26...

The plagiariser: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/04/03/mag...
Steve Woods
I read this book in a single sitting, I couldn't put it down. The trajectory of the relationship and the pathos of Brian's denial of what all dream of, passionate love and simple commitment (whether it is ever possible to achieve either in the form presented in this story or not is another question), and the subsequent loss of all through the meaningless and unecessary death of Edward, had me pinned in ways I would never have expected. Much of the intensity the story carried for me, may have had...more
From the blurb:

At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic, self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.

But Edward posesses “an unproblematic capacity to accept” Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suit...more
Michael Soros
I don't have the language for book reviews and have no wish to repeat what other reviewers have said in much better English. I found the book very engrossing and showed a flawed main character who lives with the results of his behaviour for the rest of his life. Although it sounds dramatic it could in fact happen to anyone - not knowing whether something you did or left undone would have affected someone else's life profoundly. I read the book straight through and regretted finishing it so quick...more
I'm pretty much obsessed with David Leavitt's short stories, and it turns out his writing is just as amazing in novel form. While England Sleeps is the story of a love affair in 1930s Europe between Brian, an upper-class writer, and the poor but optimistic Edward. Politics and class play a huge role in their relationship,as do struggles with identity and sexuality. Leavitt definitely knows how to tell a compelling story; I couldn't stop turning the pages of this book any more than I could Collec...more
Shawn Thrasher
I fell right into the deep end of David Leavitt's While England Sleeps and only came up for air when I absolutely had to. The first half of the book is incredibly romantic and occasionally witty (sometimes hilarious) and details the sexual encounters of two twenty-something young Englishmen from different sides of the tracks (or in this case, the Tube), who are exploring each other's bodies (and Communism) for the very first time. The backdrop is the dark days of the 1930s, when the everything s...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Europe between world wars was watching the surge of fascism grow in both Germany and Spain where a fascist rebellion, led by Franco, was fighting to over throw the democratic government. The title refers to England’s hands off policy for Spain. Meanwhile thousands of young people from Europe and North America were volunteering to fight Franco’s fascists.

Brian is a upper class young man who believes that he is not really gay but having fun until it is time to settle down and marry. His lover, Edw...more
Aug 29, 2014 Jon rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy gay/historical fiction
Recommended to Jon by: myself, after reading The Lost Language of Cranes
This novel is brilliant. David Leavitt's writing style and subject matter, as he takes on class differences and social/sexual situations is similar to James Baldwin (author of Giovanni's Room). With a cast of strong characters, this book soars from the beginning, and the plot makes it very difficult to put down. The setting is 1936, and the events leading up to World War II are in full swing. Brian Botsford is invited to a meeting of the Communist Party, and he decides to attend out of curiosity...more
Brian McLaughlin
A remarkable exploration of the human condition during the obvious political and social turbulence of the 1940s in England. Not exactly a thrilling page-turner, clearly not a reissued shitlicker written by James Patterson. Although much of the plot seems drab and clouded with boring disillusionment, the novel is a very complex work which details changes in the modern psyche of a relationship and of the interactions between sex and love and passion and romance and friendship, etc. This increasing...more
I'm on a roll lately with the "what might have been " ilk. This was right up that alley and quite well written. That being said I can understand how there was a lawsuit involved with its first publication. I think mr. Leavitt should have just owned up to it. In an interview I read that he gave to some magazine regarding the suit he all but does admit his faux pas but at the same time seems to think he somehow should've been exempt.
Having stayed up too late to finish this book, I can't get to sleep now, troubled by the truth it tells of love being always out of sync. And the truth of hoping to be haunted by a long-lost love when, in fact, dead is dead. The narrator's fantasy in the final paragraph is powerful enough to bear the weight of the novel--a beautiful wish he can't let go of and that won't let go of him but that, either way, will never come true.
Jul 22, 2008 Kevin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: queer
A nice stab at historical gay romance. Leavitt's at his best I think in his contemporary work, especially his short stories, but this one was sweet, and not your typical "it's rough being gay in olden times" story. This was a pleasant diversion.
Aug 20, 2007 ken rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: gay men
Yes I know that by all literary standards this is trite... BUT sometimes it has its place. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I'm all swooning over "Edward". Aaaahh.
Ryan: Thanks for suggesting this one.
Chris Cooke
While England Sleeps is my current favorite book! I'm not usually big on reading fiction, but the Leavitt's attention to detail, and writing style has made me a believer.
Andrew Gray
Just when you think the sad part is over, it gets sadder. That last scene driving in the car? A pain that stays with you forever . . .
Vfields used to be Happy!
This was a solid novel with well written characters. WW2
Favorite book of 1993...

While England Sleeps was many things: a political book, a regretful story of love lost, a class study, a tragedy, but I felt the main theme that shined through in the narrator was selfishness. True, the novel itself was incredibly ambitious, sometimes overwrought and dramatic, but the narrator was self-aware and a trust-worthy reporter, especially as the story is told by the narrator many years later, looking back.

The time and setting were relatively faithful, the novel itself was reminiscent of...more
Two people, one upper crust wealthy, the other working class poor meet and fall in love in pre-WWII London. When one isn't able to accept the changes their relationship would require, he begins to cheat and lie, telling himself that everything he's doing is for the right reasons. The course of true love never runs smooth, and this novel uses every heart tugging cliche known to story tellers to bring that point across. Despite that, I really liked this book. I'm a pushover for books that are set...more
Jun 18, 2014 Chris rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: queer
This book is very much like "Little Bee" or "The God of Small Things" wherein you know, just know, that it's going to end terribly for everyone involved but keep reading because the prose is so beautiful. Plus it's Depression-era Europe, which I always enjoy as a backdrop for a novel. The main character is imminently human if not always likable. A tinge of "the pretty one must die" present in so many queer novels of the past permeates.
Oct 31, 2013 Joshua rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book took me on an emotional journey. It was very easy to relate to both Brian and Edward. Edward really drew me in. His naive yet considerable understanding warmed my heart. So much fun, young love is.
The author did a fantastic job keeping the story line and setting apparent throughout the book. I feel as if I do have a better understanding what life in the LGBT crowd was like in these times. The ending broke my heart. I remember reading those last few chapters and balling my eyes out sitt...more
I'm torn between two and three stars for this book; it was a very 2.5-stars sort of experience.

I think my main problem is that between (among?) Hemingway, Isherwood, Remarque, and a number of variably fictionalized takes on the Cambridge spy ring, I've pretty much already read this book... and I've read it done better.

Also, Leavitt comes off as intensely obnoxious in the interview (about the Stephen Spender controversy/lawsuit) included at the beginning of my edition. It actually kind of cast a...more
Brilliant, well written, poignant.
Really enjoyed the story, the settings and both Brian and Edward. It's sad and tragic, but real and engaging at the same time.
I wanted some light reading for a trip, and while this was light in size, it was less light in terms of the actual reading. I finished it in a few hours, but I found myself actually tearing up, which is pretty rare for me. It had many issues; there were certain stylistic choices I wasn't huge on, and at times the characters seemed underdeveloped, but I will be reading more of Leavitt's works.
Jun 11, 2009 Clara rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: meh
A decent read, but very disappointing both in its depiction of the Spanish civil war and in its general plot. It depicts England in all of its ignorance and frivolity, without much subtlety. Bargain bin Forster or Waugh - it makes me want the real thing.
Hilariously bad book. We thought it was going to be about the Spanish civil war only to find out it was in fact a bodice ripper, if the men wore bodices. It did introduce the term "cottaging" to the group. "Fancy a wank?"
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Leavitt is a graduate of Yale University and a professor at the University of Florida, where he is the co-director of the creative writing program. He is also the editor of Subtropics magazine, The University of Florida's literary review.

Leavitt, who is openly gay, has frequently explored gay issues in his work. He divides his time between Florida and Tuscany, Italy.
More about David Leavitt...
The Lost Language of Cranes The Indian Clerk The Two Hotel Francforts Family Dancing The Page Turner

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“I could hear the knock and whistle of the water pipes, the purr of the calico cat. And at that moment a happiness filled me that was pure and perfect and yet it was bled with despair - as if I had been handed a cup of ambrosial nectar to drink from and knew that once I finished drinking, the cup would be withdrawn forever, and nothing to come would ever taste as good.” 7 likes
“La relación entre Edward y yo fue una historia típica que, atrapada en la guerra, se volvió trágica...pero eso también es una historia típica” 1 likes
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