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The Farewell Symphony

(The Edmund Trilogy #3)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  947 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Following A Boy's Own Story (now a classic of American fiction) and his richly acclaimed The Beautiful Room Is Empty, here is the eagerly awaited final volume of Edmund White's groundbreaking autobiographical trilogy.

Named for the work by Haydn in which the instrumentalists leave the stage one after another until only a single violin remains playing, this is the story of
Hardcover, 413 pages
Published June 7th 1999 by Knopf (first published January 1st 1997)
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An absolutely astonishing book. The verbal brio is downright heady; its mastery, its facility, reminds me of the work of Martin Amis, although in terms of subject matter the two writers could not be more dissimilar.

The nameless gay narrator here has an astonishing prose style and a semi-permanent erection. He’s just one man in a New York teeming with newfound homosexual freedom, just after the storied Stonewall Uprising (1969). But the feral sexual insatiably here is a sign not simply of freedom
Every year or so I dutifully find myself undertaking yet another Edmund White novel, even though I’m well aware it will likely prove to be a frustrating experience for me. What exactly compels this constant return? Mostly because I’m compelled by the manner in which White’s distinctive form of “autofiction” revels in the minute observations that capture the particularities of lived life. His writing is structured by a principle of accumulation as he amasses vast catalogs of the little things—hab ...more
Maureen Stanton
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant beautiful book. If Edmund White were not writing about gay culture, he'd be as widely read as Updike, Roth, and Delillo, and he should be. ...more
For Edmund White (to rephrase Cocteau) : too much is never enough. His good, sometimes symphonic novel, which mixes non-stop same-sex with literary allusions and Proustian-type memories, accented by "intelligent" writing, has a special heartbeat that is defined by an excess of booze and drugs that replays the melody of binge sex. Without sex (3,000 partners, he tells us), life is utterly meaningless for White. It validates him, gives him a self-identification. Clearly, many others feel the same ...more
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before moving to Paris I bought myself a few packages of oversized black t-shirts, to match my new pair of black Nike running shoes. I thought I could plug into the latest iteration of the art-world uniform, spread around the internet as “Ghetto Gothic,” collaging morose adolescence with an efficient interest in over-designed sportswear. Apparently I had completely forgotten that, given my gainly physique, clothes work their hardest to fit me wrong. These draped layers of black should appear eff ...more
The other day I was chit chattin’ on Facebook with my FB friend Dave and I told him I was reading this book and how much I was enjoying it and how candid Ed White has always been about his extremely promiscuous past in the go-go-gay ‘70’s. Dave replied that Edmund is slutty as fuck and that’s what he loves about him and I agreed. I said just want to be Ed’s best friend and Dave jokingly said that he just wants to pee on him and I suggested he just go ahead and ask Ed already. You know, just you ...more
Gerasimos Reads
An absolute masterpiece.

By far the best Edmund White book I've read so far and one of the best queer novels I have ever read in general. Reading though the perspective of the unnamed main character throughout all three books of White's autobiographical trilogy (a main character who is in many ways Edmund White himself) you start feeling like this is a real friend and you want to keep following him across the world, from 1950s mid-western American, to 1960s Paris, to 1970s Rome, to 1980s Fire Is
Jul 31, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This site really needs an "on hold" list.
I'll explain...

My mom gave this book to me, which is surprising since it's pretty much gay smut hidden in a Proustian pseudo-memoir. She would later scold me for owning the fantastic "Butt Book" (the magazine retrospective), which is an intelligent survey of smarty homosexuals masquerading as gay smut- little did she know they had pictures of her beloved White sucking toes in it accompanying his interview. I called her a hypocrite- end of story.

Ok, back
Sep 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
I hated this the first time through. A loose, baggy monster--or so it seemed to someone coming to it straight from 'Forgetting Elena,' that jewel. Subsequently I've reread it, in little nonconsecutive forays, and have found much that's funny and wise and humorously raunchy (a friend of mine who's gay and thinks that deep down every straight man is revolted by homosexuality, is amazed that I can stomach, and even laugh at, some of the sex described in this book; in the face of my unshockability a ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
It's a funny sort of mash up ... but very enjoyable.

“The French, apparently, liked their Americans big, butch and dumb.”

“The great romantics always live alone since a long run can only dull the perfection of the opening night.”

“I dreamed I was a coyote looking from a mesa down on a cheerful fire. I was cold and lonely, but if I approached the campsite it would be to kill or be killed.”

“The only two choices, it appeared, were marriage, cruel to the wife, stifling to the husband, and gay prom
Tao Li
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, I read it solely based on the alternative title of this book: Hilly Buttocks I Have Known; Thus, I have no more expectation of this installment than before-bed guilty pleasure. To my surprise, there are touching moments, memories and reflection in-between of sucking dicks, struggles with AIDs, gay rights moments and grieving all felt as real and relatable (maybe less so in literal experiencing sense) as loitering in the backside of gay bars. I have scrolled down and saw people suggesting th ...more
Christopher Barnes
Young gay men *need* to be reading Edmund White. I doubt most of the men in my generation even know who he is, let alone why he's important. His works chronicle a period in gay history that was incredibly important for us to be where we are today. He was in some ways the voice of his generation, and it is a sad, beautiful, engaging voice that makes reading this book a pleasure. ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a doozy. So vivid and so rich that after putting the book down I had to remind myself I didn't live this life, Edmund White did. ...more
Steve Woods
Together with the first two volumes in this trilogy, White has appeared out of what has been for me, the mist of gay literature as one of the most proficient writers I have ever read. This man wastes not a word, his characterizations are powerful but in a way such that they slide up on you. I felt that I really knew the characters peopling this tale-though at times that sense of things was uncomfortable for me. At times horrified, at times disgusted, at times enthralled, at times highly amused b ...more
Apr 30, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Dreadful. Edmund White takes himself way too seriously.
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-gay-gay
(Psst: it's about AIDS). ...more
Dusty Myers
With the third novel of his otherwise dull trilogy, White, and we all, have AIDS to thank. Whereas A Boy's Own Story had nothing to connect its narrative to outside of the narrator's own obsessions, The Beautiful Room is Empty had the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Except the book ends with this event, it's literally on the last page, which is stupid seeing as how it was such a beginning of something; the book as a result isn't so much about gay liberation as it is about the narrator's obsessions ...more
Jun 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Edmund White has a lyrical prose, but to me this was just a collection of conquests, the sex explicitly and salaciously recounted. I would have liked a more plot driven narrative. When he told of his nephew coming to stay, the issues with his sister, his writing career, and towards the end the impact of the AIDS crisis - I read avidly as I was really drawn in. I enjoy a good bit of smut, but there’s only so many times you can read about c*ck, poppers, fisting and spunk!
May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm 20 years younger than White and a straight women, or I guess these days I'm a cisgender female, but this book brought back memories of all the gay young men I had the pleasure of hanging with from late '70's through the mid 80's. It also brought back memories of that horrible, terrifying time when AIDS first appeared. Every time one of my friends would cough, I would worry. I lost touch with most of those men years ago as my life went in a trajectory that included marriage and children, thin ...more
Stubby Girdle
Left judging White (and White's all-consuming whiteness) as, in some ways, emblematic of so much of what is corrupt about being a homo in the here-and-now (and I'm not talking about the promiscuity, FYI), yet still want to read A Boy's Own Story and still want to read his biography of Genet, and maybe being uncomfortable with those two facts. I guess the self-indulgent, constant self-belittling (which really served to further mythologize himself) White's narrator engages in worked. Totally unfoc ...more
Aug 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I confess, I've always secretly wanted to read those "sex tips from gay men" books. Thank God I discovered Edmund White. Juicy gossip couched in what Jonathan Franzen would call "high art literary tradition". A guilty pleasure without the guilt. Yet the book rewards on so many other levels. Dare I say, there is wisdom in this book: on sex, on aging, on beauty, on writing. From dining with Foucault in Paris to trolling for rough trade in Venice to the angst of socially identifying oneself as a wr ...more

Well, I wasn't overly impressed by this. Which is a shame because I'd actually enjoyed the first two books and since I've always had an interest in New York of the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's. But in this book I found the author turn a bit...snobbish. Like everything was too pretentious and I didn't really like all characters' holier-than-thou attitudes. Plus, name dropping works of literature like you're Victor Hugo? What's up with that?
Could've been a good read had it not been full of overly pretentious self-absorption. White took himself too seriously. The plot jumped around from present time to past time and it was hard to keep track of. It felt less about White's life and more about a roster of how many guys he'd screwed. I'm also no prude, but the really graphic sexual details got old fast, especially since they seemed to be the main focus of the book. ...more
Jim Grimsley
I have loved Edmund White's books since I first discovered them. I like this one mildly. I read it with some absorption, but more as a memoir than a novel; the chatty, I'm-talking-to-you-directly quality rarely attracts me in any book. but since I'm interested in White, the quality of talky-talk worked better than usual for me. But I was still weary of the voice by the end. This is not a novel in which the book becomes transparent and one feels the action as though it is happening around one. It ...more
Ronald Leung
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only found out after I had finished this book that it was in fact, not an exact autobiography (which is what I assumed) but the finale of a trilogy roman a clef based on White's life. Given that I hadn't read the first 2 books and purchased this one because I spotted it at a BMV and loosely associated it with an article I had just read about White, this would explain why I found myself quickly submerged in the first half. As White comments about homosexuality in America: "I thought that never ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the by-products of reading, especially fiction and, I think, especially, novels, is that through a really good or great novel, a reader is able to get inside of--experience--a world or a life that would never be actually part of his or her life. It is not the reason to read a book; a good book is an end in itself. But it has been for me, often, a wonderful outcome.

This novel, a beautifully, even elegantly written story, is about gay life through the perspective of a gay man. It is about
Carlos Mock
The Farewell Symphony by Edmund White

This is the third installment of Edmund White's autobiographical trilogy. It starts in the 1960's with the death of Brice, White's lover, from HIV/AIDS complications. It fluctuates from that until the late 1990's, when the book was written.

Unfortunately, his first-person narration is hard to follow. It jumps from the present to the past, sometimes without much notice. It jumps from one subject to the next, again without much notice. The characters are dull, n
John Pabon
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review #14 of my 52 week book challenge: The Farewell Symphony

I originally read Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty as a junior in high school. His writing played a big role in my own sexual awakening. When I saw this title, the final in a series, I had to pick it up.

White's writing style makes the most obscene actions seem poetic. He, better than any other author, is a master of description. I've never encountered anyone else who could draw you so deeply into a scene. While the subject
May 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this so much. I loved the book before it in the trilogy (The Beautiful Room Is Empty), but this felt so unfocused and ramble that I got very frustrated with it. There are moments of great insight and beauty in this, but White almost seems to pull back from them. I found it frustrating.
Very well-written but I felt overwhelmed sometimes by the relentless thrumming of sex with men. It was just sometimes too much, as when his friend Kevin stands over him and urinates all over his mouth and chest and he speaks of the bitter taste. Yuk, man.
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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

Other books in the series

The Edmund Trilogy (3 books)
  • A Boy's Own Story (The Edmund Trilogy, #1)
  • The Beautiful Room Is Empty (The Edmund Trilogy, #2)

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