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London Triptych

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  858 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Jack Rose begins his apprenticeship as a rent boy with Alfred Taylor in the 1890s, and finds a life of pleasure and excess leads him to new friendships — most notably with the soon-to-be infamous Oscar Wilde. A century later, David tells his own tale of unashamed decadence while waiting to be released from prison, addressing his story to the lover who betrayed him. Where t ...more
Paperback, 239 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Myriad Editions (first published January 1st 2010)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  858 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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KL (Cat)
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, favorites
Never have I ever read a novel like this one, and never do I think I would ever again.

The feeling upon trailing off from the last word and flipping the page - to discover it blank and cold - is akin to finishing The Secret History. If not for the intrinsic differences that lay in the heart of the books that separate them from each other, I would say that both books are similar; but they are fundamentally not, so I will stop going down this tempting path and strike one out of my own making.

So. W
Martin Belcher
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
London Triptych is a time-spanning novel set in three time periods, the 1890’s, 1950’s and 1980’s. The three narratives are separate stories but subtly intertwined.

In the 1890’s, Jack Rose starts his tuition as rent boy with Alfred Taylor and learns to love a life of sex and pleasure servicing his well heeled clients amongst the decadence and hidden world of homosexuality in Victorian London. He meets Oscar Wilde during his work and is interestingly brought into his relationships.

In the 1950’s,
Love isn't meant to stand still.

This is one of many key sentences in Jonathan Kemp's wonderfully unsettling London Triptych, three stories set in London at three different moments in time that slowly come together through a series of subtle connections and recurrent characters.

In 1894, Jack Rose recounts his apprenticeship as a rent boy in Alfred Taylor's brothel and his encounter and relationship with Oscar Wilde in the months before the trial that eventually disgraced the poet's life and r
George K. Ilsley
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, gay
Three slices of life at three different times— what could be better. Beautifully written and engaging, although at times the voices of the three unreliable narrators tend to merge with an omnipotent overseer who lurks here and there in the text. That is, Kemp was unable to hold himself back at times, imposing his own beautiful prose onto his characters instead of developing each of their voices more clearly. However, Kemp is not to be judged too harshly for that, and in fact, when I finished the ...more
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay
What can I say? It's just a beautiful piece of writing. When you read in reviews that each word is `carefully crafted' I think they must have been thinking about this work because I was taken by how many of the descriptions in the book are so well conveyed in a few short colourful intense words. I found myself writing them down which I rarely do as I didn't want to interrupt the narrative. The plot is well described by others so I won't repeat it but it's the sense of time and place which is so ...more
Nov 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this novel, which relates the story of three gay Londoners in 1894, 1954 and 1998 respectively, linked by the pleasures and perils of the capitol. But I just didn't. The problem is that the author, who wrote this while apparently completing his PhD in comparative literature, couldn't get out of his own way and prevent his academic work from getting in the way of his fiction. There is just too much delight in words for their own sake, which--especially in the case of the t ...more
Emmanuelle Maupassant
Jonathan Kemp explores hungers we cannot explain and paints images not only intensely erotic, but tender. Here, in London Triptych, he shows us the unfolding of three men’s lives, each an unravelling ribbon, fluid, twisting, looking back upon itself. Their stories are confessionals, inviting us to enter the nocturnal, hidden recesses of the psyche. Meanwhile, London’s shadows and secrets echo those within our protagonists, and remind us that we readers, too, have our untold stories.

Each of the t
This is Jonathan Kemp's debut novel and is a fascinating insight into gay history over the last 100 years. Whether you are straight or gay, it is an absorbing read. The characters are well-rounded human beings, with their strengths and imperfections. The book is set in London and links the lives of Jack from 1895, Colin in 1954, and David in 1998.

Jack is a rent boy with few inhibitions. He lives a life of hedonism and adventurous sex, meeting men from all classes in suppressed Victorian society,
Oct 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
OK, one more from my Major Gay Authors category. Kemp's book is NOT for most mainstream readers; he explores the dark underworld of rent-boys across three generations of London. 1895, the footloose Jack Rose will do anything (and anyone) to escape the grinding poverty of his East London slum, and discovers the far lusher life of serving as object of desire to lords, politicians, and even Oscar Wilde. By 1954, a severe crackdown has led to a far more closeted world, in which a budding painter's f ...more
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's no need for gay-literature to be so... Gay. Obvious, inconsequential and boring.
Christopher Moss
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
London in the 1890s, 1950s and late 1990s is the setting for three interlaced tales about life for same sex desiring men. Jack in the “Gay 90s” is a “rent boy”, a teen prostitute whose livelihood brings him into contact with Oscar Wilde. Colin, an artist in gay paranoid 1954 finds a nude model’s seeming openness about his sexuality a challenge for his own closeted life. David in the 1980s, telling his story from prison a decade and more later chooses to throw his life in front of the AIDS bus in ...more
Anthony McGill
The concept of having three parallel stories of gay men from different periods of the London century (1894/1954/1998) is an ingenious idea.
Of the three segments, the early period featuring young rent boy Jack Rose, Oscar Wilde and the "hidden" life of homosexual activity in late 19th. Century England is the most colorful and great fun to read, but despite the author's obvious research of the times, some of the events seemed a bit dubious at times.

I enjoyed the keenly observed and believable stud
Kevin Klehr
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of my 'to read' books and when I found it prominently placed in a Vancouver bookstore, I picked it up straight away. I'm so glad I did.

Three tales are told in first person from three very different broken gay men. One lives in the latter part of the nineteenth century, another tells his life from the 1950's and the last from the final decades of the twentieth century. All live in London. All we can identify with.

To say any more would spoil the wonderful journey I took with each of t
Mar 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay-interest, 2012
Gorgeous evocation of changing gay identity over three distinct periods, focusing on three different characters in London: the time of Oscar Wilde, the 1960s and then the late 1990s. (I did find that the latter two periods are not as readily distinguishable from each other as they are from the Wilde period, and that the 1990s section seems the weakest or least impactful of the book). What I loved is that Kemp does not shy away from the pathetic, sordid and downright ugly sides of his characters ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, read-2017
Jumping back and forth between three distinct narratives, this short novel explores the lives and loves of three gay men in London, decades apart. From Jack Rose, a rentboy in late Victorian times who gets caught up in the Oscar Wilde trials, via Colin, an aging artist infatuated with his model in the hostile climate of the 1950s, to David, who tells his story of sex trade and drugs while serving a prison sentence in the late 1990s, each of the stories captures what it was like to be a gay man i ...more
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer-lit
An entertaining and engrossing read. There are three narratives, one set in the 1890s, the second in 1954 and the third in 1998. They eventually link, other than thematically in that they all concern rent boys, the completion of which is rather subtly and surprisingly done. What is most interesting is the progress of gay men's lives over the 100 years or so in which the story takes place - or in some respect the lack of progress.
Dec 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Sexy and interesting glimpse at the history of gay ho's in London.
Sidharthan Kannan
May 06, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting read, that promised more than it could live up to.

I was gripped immediately by the prose when I started this book. Jonathan Kemp has a lyricism to his writing that brings alive all mundane imagery. He also revels in the language of the body. There has been no writer who has been so candid, so sordid and yet intensely poetic when writing about sex. This has to be one of the most sex-positive books I've ever read. The myriad kinks and fetishes of gay men through the ages are laid b
David Gee
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
The stories of three gay men 100 years apart are interwoven in this highly original debut novel. In the 1890s East End lad Jack Rose is taken on as an apprentice rent-boy by Alfred Taylor, the gay 'madam' whose evidence will help send Oscar Wilde to Reading Gaol. In the 1950s, with homosexuality still against the law, inhibited artist Colin develops a consuming passion for Gregory, the rent-boy who poses for him. In the 1990s David becomes infatuated with a fellow rent-boy who puts him on a road ...more
Christopher Fox
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. The three parallel stories, about gay men and sex in the City of London, are peopled by realistic human beings, brought to life by Kemp's spot-on writing. The three main characters, written in the first (and second!) person, not only go into great detail about their sexual activities with a trenchant truthfulness and lack of affectation but let us into their thoughts, hopes and fears with such honesty and candour that the reader cannot help but identify with them closel ...more
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it

"London Triptych," by Jonathan Kemp is my kind of book. It tells three subtly interwoven stories of male prostitutes from three generations: the 1890s, the 1950s, and the 1990s. These men are not shy about their sexual desires, and that could make for some fidgety reading from some circles. But it tells a certain kind of truth that may not exist anymore. These are from generations of men where there is still shame in what they desire, and nowadays in the a
Raph Lumbroso
Jun 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Not since I first read Rupert Everett's excellent first memoir, 'Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins', have I encountered such a well captured and deeply resonant piece of writing about the city I live in.
Because as Kemp states in the essay at the end of the book, London is as much a character in his triptych as the three men whose lives he interweaves, spanning years and political climates with remarkable fluidity and depth to the point where I felt I was recalling memories of my own as I read.
Max Fincher
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed how this novel described the perspective of the rent boy from three different historical periods, and encourages the reader to see the connections between them. I thought the descriptions of the brothels, the Savoy and Wilde in the 1890s were all good, but just very occasionally, they did feel a little overdone at points.

For me, the most appealing, and moving sections of this book, were those of that described the closeted painter, Colin Read in the 1950s, and his troubled relationship
Nov 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a great story, actually 3 stories that all happen in London about 50 years apart and overlap. Each involves a gay hustler and what it was like to live there in the late 1890's, 1950's and 1998. the first story is an imaginary hustler who is a "regular" of Oscar Wilde's and what its like to grow up dirt poor, hungry, but with something valuable you can trade on if you are young and cute. These stories aren't a series of happy endings but there are a lot of lessons learned. I especially li ...more
The novel gives the reader three different main characters set in three very different time periods, the late 1890s, 1950s, and 1990s; all in gay London. We learn about their past, present and future, but I was left wishing that each of these characters had their own book in a trilogy, opposed to the triptych. The books approach to describing sex, and those who engage in it quite often, is rather frank. I couldn't tell if Kemp was trying to shock, titillate, or provoke the reader, but I assume i ...more
Twentieth-century London; constantly evolving and never changing. Three gay Londoners tell their stories including the young rent-boy Rosy Jack in 1898, the repressed artist Colin in 1954 and the decadent jailbird David in 1998. Overlapping themes of love, pleasure, criminality and vulnerability trace each life and echo in each narrative.

The London Triptych is a threefold drawing; it is a tri-perspective on London's gay underworld and those who occupy it. Beautiful observations linger, of those
Nov 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Stories of three gay men in three different eras--1890s, 1950s and 1990s--that intersect vaguely and a little arbitrarily at a certain point. Two of the three are hustlers and the third is involved with one, but the sex, such as there is, is not graphic. What's most interesting is that probably the happiest and most liberated of the central characters is the one who lived in the era of greatest repression, the 1890s. Or maybe that's wrong. His story includes Oscar Wilde, whose demise is perhaps ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: contemporary
c2010: FWFTB: Victorian, post-war, pre-2000, relationships, attitudes. I have no experiences to allow me to adequately connect with the actual story. In the words of Colin; "I am utterly ill-equipped for this." But, what I can say, is that the story telling and the writing style is exquisite. The author has included a chapter at the end explaining a bit of the story structure and influences and this helped to cement the book together in my mind. It is a quick and speedy read. Recommended to the ...more
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully researched, compelling novel about male prostitution and homosexuality in London during three different eras. I especially enjoyed reading about the closeted artist in his 50s during the gay "witch hunts" of the 1950s who was so consumed by fear and a desire to please his parents, that he'd created a lonely life for himself built on lies. Incredibly sad and an important history to know about, especially for those of us who care about LGBTQ rights. I lived in London for seven years an ...more
Gary Garth McCann
Oct 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, gay-fiction
Fascinating three plot threads set in London, one in the 1890s, another 1950s, the third 1990s. Each centered on a rent boy, the 1890s story involving the Oscar Wilde debacle. Flawlessly written. Some might say this is a "gay book," but as a gay man I read a ton of "straight books" and have no trouble transitioning into that world, so if you're heterosexual try flexing your reading muscles. But be prepared for a little squalor. Think of the unpleasant (to our modern sensitivites) London depicted ...more
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