by Richard Mason
Ambitious Piet Boral loves the finer things in life, so he secures a position as a tutor for the son of a wealthy Amsterdam businessman. Boral lacks any specific training for treating the boy's crippling agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but his good looks and smooth manner soon win the family to his side. He seduces the mother while the daughters flirt and the father proudly educates the young man about his collections of art. But Boral isn't truly a member of this gilded world, and if he doesn’t succeed in treating the son's problems, he'll be forced back into his old middle-class life. The tutor is determined to prevent this from happening.
The biggest problem that I had with this book was the main character and narrator, Piet Boral, never seems to fully engaged with the characters around him. He's always remote and detached, never emotionally invested. This infects the rest of the narrative; the sensuality of fine food and clandestine encounters with the mistress of the house are described, but they aren't lived. I never felt fully invited into the story; I only felt like I was just one more person that Boral was trying to manipulate with a carefully crafted tale.
One of the reasons that Piet Boral seems so distant and unreal is that he's just too much beloved. Every single character he meets, man or woman, seems to fall in love with him – or at the very least, they lust after his 'muscular and well fashioned' body. After a while, the encounters were no longer interesting because they were so very predictable.
The first half of the book, in which Boral lives as a tutor with an upper class family, has its problems but it is far superior to the second half. Boral, having come into some money, buys a ticket on a cruise ship to South Africa so that he can continue his highfalutin' lifestyle. It's a new setting, with new sexual partners, but the plot was dead in the water.
The characters and struggles that I was interested in got very little page time – for example, I would have loved to see more of Egbert, the child who suffered from OCD and couldn't leave the house. It would have been nice to learn more about him and how he had become so troubled, and what his daily life was like. Alternatively, the boy's father made a vow of celibacy after his son was born, and throughout the book suffers major financial blows that he attributes to an angry God. His inner life, though we saw it only in glimpses, was far more interesting that Boral's.
The story just seemed too shallow – not terrible, but not worth the time it took to finish the book.
2 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Vacation: Off to Disneyland!
2011: The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
2010: Fallen by Lauren Kate
2009: Just because you CAN publish a book written by 12 year old doesn't mean you should...