Posted in reviews

‘The Linguist’ by Sebastian Beaumont

the linguistThis book sounded absolutely wonderful when I first picked it up off the library shelf. “A chilling story of the aftermath of a love triangle and the complexities of self discovery, therapy and reconciliation”, it beguilingly said. Or how about, “Howard, 32, a translator, interpreter and prostitute, fell in love with Corinne. Her husband Matthew fell in love with Howard.” And that was just the first few lines of blurb. How could I resist?

Unfortunately, to me at least, the book didn’t live up to its billing. The triangle only appears in flashback, since the book is set at the time of Matthew’s illness and subsequent death. This means that all the action is in the past, and Beaumont adds to the effect by using a ‘reportage’ style past tense which gives rise to passages such as, “They’d often conducted long conversations. On one occasion, they discussed Erich Fromm’s philosophy and he’d laughed about how completely Matthew was subscribing to irrational workaholism….”. It’s dry, it’s distancing, it’s dull – yet this is supposed to be two vibrant characters caught up in a passionate love affair. It’s also horribly ‘tell not show’. Imagine the same passage done in real time, in dialogue, with Howard teasing Corinne about her husband’s workaholism and Corinne laughing…. It could all have been so different, and so much more involving.

The whole tone of the writing seemed overly dry and cautious to me. What little dialogue there was seemed to be used to speak the author’s thoughts rather than to develop the characters or give any real indication of their daily conversations. When was the last time you heard a woman saying “If only love could be as rational as that….”, for example? The fact that the dialogue is “murmured’ doesn’t help; I’ve yet to meet a woman who murmurs, except perhaps in her sleep.

That was another niggle, if a rather more minor one – there seemed to be too much use of recurring ‘prop’ or ‘buzz’ words which neither the author nor the editor had spotted. Characters murmured their lines on every other page, and the word ‘institutional’ was used three times to describe furniture or settings in the space of a few pages. It’s minor stuff, yes, but it was irritating enough to take this reader outside the story.

The biggest surprise of all was the lack of gay content. This is a book written by a gay man, published by Gay Men’s Press and stacked in the gay and lesbian section at the library. Yet the only reference to homosexuality was Matthew’s reported love for Howard, which was only reported and never described or displayed. True, Matthew had a boyfriend who appeared briefly in the pages and seemed never to be referred to again. True, Howard mentioned a homosexual encounter from his time as a prostitute—but it was a passing reference used to explain why he didn’t like men. And the much-hyped love triangle trumpeted on the cover was merely a straight man falling in love with a married woman, with all the consequences that brings. I found myself longing for Matthew to make a pass, or Howard to realise that he’d fallen for the wrong one, but no—the situation remained the same from page one to the book’s bitter end.

An end, sadly, I have to admit I never actually reached. I read the first few chapters with growing disillusionment and boredom, then flipped ahead to see what happened next. When I found that the only ‘self-discovery’ Howard made was that Corinne killed herself, I gave up. I have a weakness for gay writing, and gay romance in particular, and I badly wanted to like this book, especially after the build-up on the cover. But it wasn’t to be. In the end I cast it aside and took up Armistead Maupin instead, and you know what? I couldn’t find it in me to care!


This article first appeared in Velvet Mafia


Fiona lives in a slate cottage within stone-throwing distance (never a good idea in Glass houses...) of England's largest lake. She enjoys history, gardening and photography, and rarely has her nose far from the pages of a book - or a cup of tea.

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