It is always a pleasure to discover a wonderful novelist you haven’t read before. That is what happened to me with Richard Mason and his captivating new novel “History of a Pleasure Seeker”.
Frequently novels have as their main character an underdog, someone for whom you can feel empathy and for whom you can cheer. Our hero Piet Barol in “History of a Pleasure Seeker” is no underdog. He is a gifted ambitious young man who is “extremely attractive to most women and to many men”. Piet is a young man on the rise. He reminded me of my first roommate in college. Salutatorian of his high school class, my roommate had steel blue eyes, high cheekbones, hair the color of golden brass, and women just passing on the street would flirt with him. Once in a while one of these college women would want to stay overnight, and beforehand I would get kicked out of the room and have to sleep on the floor in somebody else’s room. Some of the other guys in the dorm told me to complain and stand up for myself to him, but I never did. As winter approached, he stored his motorcycle in our dorm room taking up most of the floor space, but I still didn’t complain. All of this came to a quick end when he flunked out of college at the end of the first semester. After that the guys in the dorm were envious of me, because I had the entire dorm room to myself.
Unlike my old roommate, Piet Barol, although much favored in looks and talents, has much more respect and concern for the people around him. Getting back to the novel, Piet’s story takes place in 1907 in Amsterdam. Piet gets a job as a live-in tutor for a wealthy man’s troubled young son. The rich man has a beautiful wife and two lovely daughters, and Piet keeps his eyes and ears open for his main chance. His efforts to ingratiate himself into the rich man’s family are aided by his musical and artistic talents. The novel has a very continental view of romance and relations between the sexes. For me, it was a tremendously fun read.
After completing “History of a Pleasure Seeker”, I wanted to find out Mason’s secret in writing this novel. After researching a bit I think I’ve found his secret. In an interview in Books I Think You Should Read, he said the following.
“The book that most inspired History of a Pleasure Seeker is a book on quite a different subject: Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise. That is a superb novel that charts the experiences of twelve characters fleeing Paris just before the Germans arrived in 1942. I had an experience while reading it that I hoped to give the readers of History. I was swept up in the story. I loved the author’s confidence, her style, her rich humanity – and her sympathy for her characters, whatever their flaws. I also admired her briskness and quickness. When I finished it, I knew I wanted to write a book that gave this same kind of pleasure to others – and that’s how History of a Pleasure Seeker began. It’s also why I wrote it by hand. Nemirovsky wrote by hand, her writing small and dense as she filled every inch of the paper. It was she who liberated me from Microsoft Word!”
What a brilliant sensible thing for Richard Mason to do, to have as his authorial model Irene Nemirovsky. I don’t believe it is all that common for a male writer to have a female writer as a role model, but it certainly works in this case.. I’ve read many of the great Nemirovsky’s novels, and I do see many of the same qualities in “The History of a Pleasure Seeker”. Just as Mason says he was “swept up in the story” of “Suite Francaise”, I was swept up in the story of “History of a Pleasure Seeker”.
The novel ends with the words “To be continued”. I will continue.