History of a Pleasure Seeker, By Richard Mason

A voluptuary's escapades in old Amsterdam

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The Independent Culture

There's a strange sort of emptiness at the heart of this historical novel that charts the sexual exploits of handsome young Piet Barol, tutor to a disturbed, possibly autistic young boy, in Amsterdam at the beginning of the 20th century.

In a tale with echoes of 18th-century romps such as Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, Mason shows Barol's employer's frustrated wife demanding more than just his touch; his employer's daughters alternately making passes and asking to marry him; and male servants lusting after him or teasing him into their baths. With an eye for the absurdity of the situation, Mason keeps a comic tone, but he struggles once Barol leaves for South Africa, and similar scenarios play themselves out on board the luxurious ship, Eugenie.