The Perfect Freedom - Gordon Merrick

Ladymol's review:

Imagine a plait of hair. It's perfect. It gives the impression of a perfect, seamless whole. But imagine if each of the three strands were a different colour- much less pleasing as a whole now, isn't it? Now imagine that each strand was made of a wildly differing texture: silk, Hessian rope and steel wire. It would be very hard to judge the plait as… that: a plait. Its separate elements would be all you would see.

So it is with this book. For the first hundred and fifty pages, you have a very ordinary book set in the early 1920s in a newly emerging playground for the rich and dissolute of Europe: St Tropez. Stuart, Helene and Robbie, their young son, settle there.

Move forward a few years and Robbie is now seventeen a suddenly you're reading gay porn! Robbie is so naive about sex of any kind that he lets himself be taken by any man he comes across: a young sailor on a boat they charter, tour guides on holiday behind pillars, a family friend, three Greek sailors who row the family to the shore… every where, anywhere, anyhow. He is beautiful but so totally promiscuous that he becomes a device, a cartoon character almost without the depth necessary for you to really care about who he is with or what he is doing.

Through all this, his parents look on with fond delight as he is making "such sweet new friends". At one point, his father is delighted when the sailor on their charter yacht starts sleeping in Robbie's bed- he knows how much boys like to share their nautical adventures! Then with a lurch we are back to Stuart and Helene's story with long introspections about themselves, which to be honest we don't care about.

Back to Robbie- cock count now increasing by the day. Stuart picks up the local erotic dancer, Toni, and decides he's his long-lost son and the perfect new bother for Robbie. He installs Toni in Robbie's small house in their grounds and in Robbie's bed (I kid you not). Toni is straight and decides to prove this to Robbie by walking around naked the entire time with an erection and agreeing to give Robbie hand jobs or blow jobs whenever he wants, to prove that Robbie's really not gay and it's just what all brothers do. Uh huh.

It's all so farcical that I totally lost patience with it at this stage.

Onto the third twist in the plait: what should be the main part of the story. Robbie meets the true love of his life, has to convince him it's true love, and they settle down and live together- oh, but that's all told in three pages!

This is a very flawed book. It's uneven; it's utterly ridiculous, full of over-the-top sex, interspersed with long, tedious introspection and descriptions of St Tropez. However, if you want some incredibly graphic gay sex with a beautiful underage boy, set in a time before condoms and AIDS, then by all means give this book a go. I think you'll end up scanning it for the sex scenes and skipping the rest. It's porn wrapped up in a respectable cover.

Cerisaye's Review

A fat and juicy gay romance with engaging characters and a page-turning plot. Toss in some steamy sex for good measure. Sounds good? Read on.

Gordon Merrick's life wouldn't look out of place in a work of romantic fiction. Born into a successful Philadelphia family, he studied French novels at Princeton, enjoyed Broadway success, then turned to journalism. Recruited into intelligence services during WWII he took to writing novels, spending the rest of his life in Mexico, Greece, Ceylon and France.

The opening section sets the scene and establishes the main characters. In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 Stuart Cosling, a formerly wealthy American, is looking for a simpler and more fulfilling lifestyle with his French born partner, Helene, a woman scarred by a traumatic marriage. Their beautiful son, Robbie, is a pawn between emotionally distant parents. Together they build a home on an isolated peninsula near the port of St Tropez, then an undiscovered backwater. We follow their attempts to scratch a living from the land.

What has this to do with gay romance? Bear with it. Vibrant sense of place and depth of character, lovingly fleshed out, help lift this book above simple pot boiler status.

The story develops over a tumultuous decade, personal and political. St Tropez becomes the favoured resort of the international jet set and the Coslings are fabulously wealthy, highly sought after company.

The most interesting section takes place one hot summer when Robbie is 17, breathtakingly beautiful, sweetly innocent, lonely and struggling to come to terms with his own identity and emerging sexuality.

The family takes a cruise, hiring a yacht and crew for the summer. Robbie meets Rico, a straight sailor who uses him sexually as a substitute for women. Theo, another crewman, and his twin brothers, introduce him to Greek Love taking Robbie to sublime heights of passion. Still Robbie isn't satisfied. On Delos the mysterious German, Carl, assists in the ludicrous theft of a statue of Apollo. Carl sets out to be mentor to Robbie but he's a cad and up to no good. He sleeps with Robbie and his mother, using them both.

Robbie remains deeply ashamed of his nature. The rest of the book details his path to self-acceptance, as he matures sexually and emotionally-and the boys he encounters on the way. His voice has the ring of authenticity, often painful and always intense. Coming out in the 1930s was even more difficult than it is today.

There's delightful upper class English Edward, infatuated and openly gay. Erotic dancer and would-be Hollywood actor, Toni, who likes girls but seems open to persuasion where Robbie is concerned, though not before trying to 'cure' him. Married American, Jeff, who comes to St Tropez with the sole intention of getting Robbie into his bed. Suave and charming Maurice, Robbie's art teacher, the man with whom he finally finds the love he's been looking for.

By now the dark clouds of war have cast a pall over the lives of the Coslings, their friends and neighbours.

A story of dreams, the search for freedom and identity. The struggle to come to terms with who we are in the world, to find love and happiness and purpose in life. It's ambitious in scope and not without flaws. I spotted too many typos. The characters often behave as if they know they're in a novel. The story is rather unbalanced with too much time spent setting the scene, leaving the ending feeling rushed and incomplete- there is a sequel. However, I recommend the book because it's a jolly good read. I loved Robbie, really cared what happened to him, and I think you will too.

Publisher: Harper Mass Market Paperbacks. ISBN: 1555832970

Buy it Here from Amazon UK

Back to Fiction Review Index