Time and Place
This novel qua biography is an artistic charmer in the gayest sense of the word. The protagonist, young Mark Sheridan, is precocious both intellectually and sexually with an ability to charm most of the men he meets in this book that seemed longer than it, in fact was.
The story was told in first person as though by young Mark himself; almost in the form of a diary of his experiences in the acting world, and earlier as the son of a diplomat based in China and Russia in the late nineteenth century. Much of the book is set in Peking and St Petersburg, with lengthy travelogue-style descriptions of both cities, as well as lengthy but slightly less orthodox descriptions of Mark’s many encounters with men. These encounters were usually brief and the relationships he did develop were somewhat flat and not as satisfying to this reader as the settings in which they occured. His essays on the usefulness of public conveniences as pick-up joints at a time when homosexuality was still expressly forbidden across most of Europe are quite frank!
The sense of place, then, was beautifully suggested. I felt I knew the avenues of Paris, the canals and underground toilets of St Petersburg, and the compounds and back streets of Peking, and that I was there with Mark as he explored, rutted, and trod the boards.
One difficulty I had with the book was with Sheridan’s handling of the time-scales involved. It opens in the early twentieth century with Mark as a fully fledged actor but soon flashes back to China and Russia of the 1890s when he was still a child, and from then on it progresses or regresses from the 1920s to the 1900s to the 1890s in a seemingly endless series of flashbacks. Each section was complete in itself and each one nicely presented the time in which it was set, but I soon felt that any continuity of narrative was hopelessly lost.
Overall, however, I found the book rather enjoyable and good enough to continue through the flashbacks. The beautiful also helped, but I would hesitate to recommend this book to an impatient reader.
Time and Place by Alan Sheridan. Scribner Books, 2005.
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