“In the Absence of Men” by Philippe Besson

In the Absence of MenPhilippe Besson’s first novel is a short, elegiac novel set during the first world war. It is 1916. Vincent is on the brink of manhood. Vincent is aristocratic and privileged, frequenting the salons of Paris while France is at war and the city almost deserted of men. In that brutal summer, Vincent’s beauty and precocity captivate two men: Marcel, some thirty years his senior, a writer and celebrated socialite; and Arthur, the twenty-one year old son of one of the servants, who is now a soldier at the front. Both relationships become love affairs of a kind – of the mind or of the body. Vincent intuitively tries to keep his passions separate, but over the weeks of indolent Parisian summer and far-off war, confidences are made, absences endured, secrets revealed. All of these men will suffer, and Vincent will lose the last vestiges of his childhood innocence.

 

Praise for In the Absence of Men

‘Besson’s portrait of Proust is a dextrous one… an astonishing love story, beautifully told.”
Time Out

‘A short, bold, original novel which beautifully captures the romance and amorality of gilded youth. It is particularly notable for a totally convincing portrait of Proust…’
Michael Arditti, The Independent

Book of the Year
Steven Lovat, Attitude

Besson is brave to include Proust, but his courage pays off: this is a beautiful, dreamily experimental novel unafraid of describing either joy or pain. Only the final twist seems unworthily sensationalist; it mars but cannot spoil this unusual novel.’
Metro

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