The Palace of Varieties - James Lear

Ladymol's Review

If old wives tales were true, anyone reading this book would end up totally blind.

Think of every secret kink that youíd love to see in a bookÖ. Yep, theyíre all in this one. Itís the most fantastic, enjoyable, utterly wicked romp you could wish to come across.

Paul leaves home at 17 and heads to London. Itís the late 1930s, work isnít easy to come by. He has a bizarre, but very enjoyable experience in the washrooms in Waterloo station with two men. Moreover, itís a profitable experience, and it isnít long before heís earning his keep as a prostitute.

Weíve already reviewed a couple of hustler stories: Hello Darling, Are You Working; Canít Buy Me Love. However, this book tells the story you wanted in those! This is an unexpurgated, revelling in the degradation, kiss-and-tell fictional autobiography about sex: every angle, every position, every delightful detail. Paul is a marvellous narrator, as hard on himself as his severest critic but always with a metaphorical twinkle in his eye and a chuckle of humour in his tone. Heís insatiable, sometimes even forgetting to charge his clients. His looks and talent take him to the very highest in the land, and soon heís living the highlife on the profits of his remarkable skill with cock and arse.

Everywhere he goes, he finds men willing to pay him for the pleasure of his body. Their needs are as diverse as the ways he devises to fulfil them. Something of a changeling, Paul seems to divine exactly what these men want and he is the perfect prostitute: all things to all men.

The sex is relentless and incredibly hot, but never once does this book read anything like porn. Itís exceptionally well written and filled with witty insights about the human condition. I particularly liked the part where Paul becomes the live-in lover and muse of a half-insane modernist Russian painter. The origin of some the more extreme of his paintings is fully explained!

I didnít think it was possible to have this quality and quantity of sex in a totally non-porn novel.

I really canít recommend this too highly. (But not for those who prefer their gay sex kept in the realms of the imagination).

Cerisaye's Review

Most of the books I read/review with Ladymoluk come from online sources.† This novel I bought in a Glasgow bookshop, seduced by its cover.† There wasnít a big selection.† A few measly shelves hidden in a corner in a Big Name store.† No promotional displays to call attention to great reads like this that have got us in a buying frenzy.†

The novel takes the form of a memoir, the autobiography of self-confessed tart on the make, Paul Lemoyne.† Itís 1934 and the innocent 18 year-old arrives in London seeking his fortune.† Before Paul gets out of the station heís unwittingly (but not unwillingly) turning tricks in the insalubrious confines of the menís toilets.† An encounter that sets the tone for the book. Paul arrives at the Palace of Varieties, a music hall venue, to work as stage hand.

Paulís innocence is rapidly tarnished, as the manager takes advantage of all his boys.† Paul nurses a secret longing for roommate, Kieran, who devotes his energies to girls.† Paul takes to sex with abandon.† Pretty soon, seeing easy money for doing something so pleasurable, he becomes a rent boy.† Paul is a lot like Spike.† Cheerful and pragmatic, making the best of his assets, soaking up experiences and enjoying the freedom of his new life.

Paulís life changes again when he meets sinister and enigmatic Albert Abbott.† From life on the margins, a hustler happy to earn a living as rough trade for bourgeois clients, Paul becomes a† top class whore. His clients include minor royals, aristocrats and politicians.† Paul is good at what he does because he loves sex and is a shameless exhibitionist. Abbott clearly sees something in Paul, but their relationship is peculiar.

Paul becomes an artistís model, enacting live action porn sequences for a respected Royal Academy painter, then muse to a volatile Russian modernist. Apart from Kieran, thereís Lee, a gentís clothing shop assistant, who catches Paulís eye, but Paul is beastly to them both.† At 23 he is tired and jaded.† His desensitising lifestyle, his body a commodity bought and sold, has made him frightened of tender emotion. Erotic hand touching with Lee under a hankie is tame by Paulís standards but revealing.

The novel zips along.† Paulís delivery is light and chatty.† He says heís uneducated but has natural intelligence so heís wasted in his chosen profession.† The most intriguing character is Abbott.† Paulís confused reaction to him, mixed desire, admiration and resentment, mirrors the readerís uncertainty, a tension that remains right to the end.

It is an extremely graphic novel, brimming with male sex, from the sordid to the sublime, in every position, place and variety.† You get a feel for the period, when gay sex was illegal but plentiful.† Working men too had their fun, in places like a backroom of Covent Garden market, where older men were serviced by young boys for mutual pleasure before returning home to their families.†

The book is perfectly balanced between arch and knowing.† Paul is good company.† Vain and selfish and weak, heís first to admit his flaws.† He doesnít wallow in shame or guilt.† He reminds us itís not a romantic novel but a rakeís progress, and jokes when the sex quota dips.† Paul doesnít shrink from showing us his worst.† Heís culpable in an act of vicious cruelty and degradation thatís upsetting to read.

We know this isnít the life he deserves, but Paul isnít mature enough to do anything about it.† He only questions his choices when age begins to catch up with him.† Heís had plenty (too much) sex but lacks love and companionship.† He flirts with danger, soliciting policemen, too proud and ashamed to ask for help.† Ironically itís Kieran who shows Paul the error of his ways, in a beautiful reconciliation sequence.† By 1939 the party is over for Paul and heís older and wiser.† He gets bashed and thinks itís only what he deserves.† But this isnít a morality tale.† Paul comes through smiling, and finds love in an unexpected place.

I canít say enough to recommend this book.† I really hope thereís a sequel.† Paulís wartime adventures.

Published by: Millivres-Prowler Group Ltd, ISBN: 1873741863

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