Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mirror Boy

 “Spiegeljongen” (“Mirror Boy”) from 2010 is the Dutch author Floortje Zwigtman’s third and final novel about Adrian Mayfield, a young gay model and journalist living in Victorian London. Like its predecessors - ”Schijnbewegingen” and ”Tegenspel”- the novel hasn’t been published in English, only in Dutch and German, and as usual I read it in German. Here the novel is called ”Auf Leben und Tod” (“On Life and Death”).

The year is 1895 and Adrian has turned 18 years old. Because Adrian used to be a rent boy, his lover, the conservative painter Vincent Farley, has kicked him out and Adrian has lost everything; his job, his home and first and foremost his love. In London Oscar Wilde is on trial for homosexuality and the gays are panicking, some fleeing to Paris, others committing suicide and the ones like Vincent repressing their gay tendencies by seeking female company. When Adrian finds out that Vincent plans to marry the innocent Octavia Webb, he goes mad with hate and jealousy and joins forces with the decadent, transsexual Lady Kinderly in order to get his revenge. The “lady” specialises in kidnapping young children from London and selling them to brothels in Paris, so when Vincent goes to Paris to propose to Octavia, Adrian follows him together with Lady Kinderly, her male nurse Chris, her foster “daughter” Eliza (who is really a boy) and three kidnapped children. The revenge doesn’t go as planned, so back in London Adrian decides to expose Vincent’s homosexuality, thereby bringing not only Vincent but the entire Farley family down. Vincent’s brother Stuart gets in his way, though, and suddenly Adrian is the hunted, fighting for his life.

Although a lot of new characters are introduced such as Lady Kinderly and her posse, we get to meet all of the old gang in “Spiegeljongen” as well. Adrian’s family and old friends all have a part to play and so have Oscar Wilde, Lord Bosie, Aubrey Beardsley, Augustus Trops etc. and we get a closure on all of the characters, which is very fulfilling. Furthermore the trial of Oscar Wilde is always in the background of the story and Zwigtman uses it skilfully to show the hate and fear, which embraced homosexuals in Victorian London.

“Spiegeljongen” is more dramatic, darker and scarier than its predecessors, as Adrian’s hate and madness permeate the story, but still he is one of the most interesting, sympathetic and complex protagonists in modern literature with his matter-of-fact look on life and his sarcastic sense of humour. I just love that guy! The story is high-paced, thorough and well-researched and as such the novel is a worthy ending of a trilogy that – in my humble opinion – is the best I have ever read. If I have to say something negative about it, I can’t, but one thing that struck me as odd was the epilogue. Zwigtman ends the book with a “27 years later”-epilogue and although I know it’s a very popular thing to do nowadays, it is also a bit weird, especially as the narrator is no longer Adrian, but Vincent. I could have lived without it, but I guess Zwigtman wanted to make absolutely sure that her readers got the aforementioned fulfilling closure on all of her characters.

Each volume of the Adrian Mayfield trilogy is a masterpiece on its own and “Spiegeljongen” is no exception. Despite the explicit gay sex scenes, you don’t have to be gay to read it and despite it being (wrongfully!) labelled a young adult book, you don’t have to be a teenager, either. You don’t even have to be a fan of Oscar Wilde, just read it! On each of the 640 pages, Zwigtman shows her superiority as both a writer and a storyteller, and I for one wasn’t able to put the book down, but had to read it in one go. I sure hope that the entire trilogy is going to be published in English soon, because this masterpiece deserves to be read by as many people as possible. To be honest, if I had the power, I would nominate Floortje Zwigtman to the Nobel Prize in literature any day!

Five out of five stars: *****

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