In Review

A Previous Life: a fairly preposterous new novel

Edmund White’s latest book is an ‘elegant, filthy’ work

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Edmund White’s novels “forever enlarged what gay writing might do”, said Neil Bartlett in The Guardian. His latest book – “his 30th, by my count” – is an “elegant, filthy” work that “crackles with a heartfelt insistence that the old and hungry” still have much to tell us about “the dynamics of sex”.

In the year 2050, a married couple in a remote Swiss chalet decide to entertain each other by recounting their “previous sexual careers”. Constance, in her early 30s, is an “African-American orphan”, while Ruggero, her husband, is an elderly bisexual Sicilian aristocrat who is “legendarily well-connected (not to mention well hung)”.

As you’d expect, this novel is “elegantly written”, and contains many “arresting images”, said Peter Parker in The Spectator – but it’s fairly “preposterous”. The leap forward in time is merely a device allowing Ruggero to reminisce about his affair 30 years earlier with the now-forgotten writer Edmund White, then old and infirm: a “fat, famous slug”, he calls him. It is, however, all very entertaining.

Bloomsbury 288pp £18.99; The Week Bookshop £14.99

A Previous Life book cover
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To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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