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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Phoenix
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753829096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753829097
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 1.8 x 17.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,405,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate on March 31 2012
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this immensely, though I began with some apprehension. The publisher's letter and excerpted reviews imply lush wallowing in sensual pleasure, including a great deal of sex, as a young man from the provinces finds a position in a rich Amsterdam household in the first decade of the last century, and apparently seduces everybody in sight. The picaresque genre has its charms, but it requires a very light touch. Well, Richard Mason has that touch, but his novel does not rest on style and sex alone; the blurbs are wrong, or at least incomplete. Piet Barol, the hero, is indeed handsome enough to be desired by both sexes, and talented enough to enter the household of rich hotelier Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts as tutor to his son Egbert, and he does indeed begin by conscious use of his personal charm. But before he has actually seduced anybody in the house, he himself is seduced -- not only by the luxurious lifestyle of his employers, but also by their liberality in sharing it with him. Piet is a man of conscience; he feels gratitude and eventually even love. Though both the almost-adult daughters of the family make eyes at him, and Maarten's wife is not immune to his charms, Piet's career in the household is far from a serial sexual romp, and such sex as there is has very little to do with his own pleasure.

Egbert, the youngest of the family, suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, doing everything according to a secret agenda based on numbers, sequences, and repetitions. Though a gifted pianist (more so that Piet), he drives his way mechanically through Bach's Preludes and Fugues to placate his mathematical demons. He refuses to go outside. At first Piet neglects him, treating the job as a sinecure while he attempts to build a relationship with the others in the house.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard McCallum on Jan. 9 2013
Format: Paperback
A bit of Upstairs-Downstairs, set in Amsterdam during the Belle Epoque, and a hilarious take on a young man’s sexual awakening. Quick, easy read for you ADHD types. The protagonist is a bit shallow and the sex is prolific, but readers shouldn't let that scare them off. It's all in good fun.
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Amazon.com: 127 reviews
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Modern day Sentimental Education...with some twists Jan. 3 2012
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Young and charismatic Piet Barol is a hedonist with a purpose. He's turned pleasure into an art, like a jaunty Epicurean. In 1907, he leaves behind his austere beginnings in South Holland for the splendor of the rich and modern, via employment in a powerful family in Amsterdam. Although raised in lower-middle-class surroundings, his Parisienne mother imparted gentility and musical refinement to Piet before her premature death. His sensuous lips, striking physique, keen blue eyes and cultivated, easy charm ignites passion in others, and he is as resourceful as he is alluring.

With confidence and authority, Piet secures a position in the Vermeulen-Sickerts' household as ten-year-old Egbert's private tutor. Egbert's agoraphobia presents a challenge for Piet, who is paid well to teach and to hopefully "cure" him. From the moment he steps foot in their grand house, class distinctions are noted and deftly exploited by the agile and ambitious new tutor.

This promise of the title delivers, and the sex is candid. If you are turned off by explicit sexuality, you may want to reconsider this book. However, Mason writes with a poised pen and a light, poetic touch in this romp of rumps. It's ripe, but not vulgar, and he has a knack for regulating the sexual exuberance. In lesser hands, it would be meretricious and puerile, but he harnesses the narrative's carnal energy with a droll and nutty bite. The bi-curious Piet jettisons the limited definition of heterosexuality. He is a card-carrying lover of women, but he has a sensuous appreciation for the subtle bonds of carefree, liberated men.

This savvy novel of class and manners displays Piet's acumen for blurring divides and situating himself as a "guest" of the house. Barol quickly intuits the vulnerabilities of the domicile, including the servants, and makes an enterprise and métier out of his talent for soothing egos, from the bottom to the top. However, he is not without a nemesis. Daughter Louisa, a strong and independent woman who assesses him as a canny and insouciant opportunist, mistrusts his motives, although her sister Constance is mildly afflicted with his charms.

Maarten's anguish over his son blindly binds him to a severe and persecutory God. His religiosity is so extreme that it has become anathema to intimacy with his wife. There is more at stake here then just a pleasure seeker's desires. The sins of the father have infected the child. The author's understanding of Egbert's illness and its roots in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (although the term isn't named in the book) were penetratingly accurate. What is even more profound is Mason's ability to illustrate a theory that I have always held: that fervent religiosity is also linked to OCD. He shows without telling.

Word has it that Mason intends to continue the adventures of Piet Barol in at least two subsequent books. Knowledge of that mitigates the appearance of a pat and abrupt ending here as the ship sails into South Africa. There is much potential for past liaisons to threaten Piet's future, and for his usual composure to careen as he walks a tightrope--which is an extended metaphor and a prime subtext of the narrative. The novel ends with a promise that pedigree, passion, and ambition will continue to quiver and clash in Piet Barol's pursuit and parlay of pleasure.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Mildly entertaining Jan. 1 2012
By TSSmith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This novel opens in Amsterdam in 1907 and is divided into two parts, with the first part comprising about two-thirds of the relatively short novel (less than 300 pages).

In Part One, we see the main character, Piet Barol -- a good looking, recent college graduate with multilingual, musical, and artistic skills -- charming his way to employment with one of Amsterdam's richest, but also socially progressive, families as a live-in tutor to the family's only male child, Egbert, who is 10 years old and smart, but has quite a handful of psychological afflictions, including the fear of stepping out of the house for even just a moment. Barol's job is to further Egbert's education in the languages, music, and arts, as well as to coax him out of the house so that the future heir may partake in family outings.

Barol is first interviewed by Egbert's mother, Jacobina, who takes an immediate liking to -- and lust for -- him. Maarten, Jacobina's religious and now eccentrically celibate husband (the reason for this is explained in the novel), is similarly impressed. Barol gets hired and meets Egbert's beautiful, adult, and unmarried sisters, Constance and Louisa, as well as the household servants, two of whom -- the tall footman Didier and the slightly creepy, older butler Mr. Blok -- develop an immediate homosexual crush on him.

Against this backdrop of palpable sexual tensions that he immediately recognizes as favoring him, Barol intends to keep the cards he holds to himself and to play them adroitly. So it seems that the game is his to lose, but will he succeed or will he stumble?

In Part Two, we find Barol aboard a ship bound for South Africa. Soon after boarding, he realizes he has made a big mistake. Self-pity engulfs him, but he does meet an old ally, as well as new characters who have the potential to become allies or just additional conquests. The choices he makes can mean the difference between getting kicked out of the ship and left stranded in the middle of nowhere where the odds will overwhelmingly be against him, or making it to South Africa as planned where opportunities for pleasure seeking and, perhaps, even wealth building await him.

I thought the first part of the novel held many promising possibilities for interesting character and plot developments, so I was disappointed when the author apparently did not pursue those possibilities.

Had the author ditched the second part of the novel, which I thought merely changed Barol's sex partners and did not substantially add to character or plot development, in favor of using the freed up time and space to add more depth to the characters and color to the plot in what used to be the first part of the novel, the resulting novel might have had more substance and, therefore, appeal to readers like me who are looking for characters worth rooting for.

Sure, the author did a good job transporting me to what Amsterdam and America were like, at least to the super rich, during the earliest years of the twentieth century, and I did get a laugh or two at some of the characters' occasional missteps, silliness, foibles, and/or bravados, and descriptions of the sexual acts were tasteful and some were quite fun and arousing. But overall, I was indifferent to Piet Barol and the fate that awaits him should he fail or succeed at finding the pleasures he seeks, because I have not been given any good reason to care about him. Good for him if he gets rewards or favors for sex, but no boohoo from me if he doesn't.

The novel's ending suggests there might be a sequel or more. Here's hoping for a more fully developed Piet Barol and reasons to root for him!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Needs either more plot or more romping! April 7 2012
By Jeanette Thomas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The fact that this novel is framed as a sort of journal presumably excuses the author from having to produce a single arcing narrative, which is good because History of a Pleasure Seeker has a decidedly episodic feel.

The first episode, in which our handsome, charismatic hero, Piet Barol, becomes tutor at the home of a well-to-do Dutch family at the turn of the 20th century, is definitely the most complete and entertaining of the episodes. Piet's challenge is to navigate the social and sexual hazards of Amsterdam's upper class while simultaneously liberating his pupil from the horrific grip of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This part of the story is feels fully fleshed out and is rather engaging.

The second episode, in which our hero travels to Cape Town on a luxury liner, is where things start to fall apart. The author seems to believe that providing characters with backstories automatically endows them psychological depth, but despite many dull pages of explication, the characters in this episode remain stubbornly plastic and unconvincing. The plots/themes that are introduced in this section (how will Barol's guilt over what happened in Amsterdam affect him? Will he ever acknowledge Didier's tenderness? Will he ever pay for the consequences of his actions?) feel contrived and uncomfortably unresolved.

And then comes episode three, in which our hero - after hundreds of pages of resisting love and temptation - succumbs to both all at once, for no particular reason, over the span of about 3 pages, to a character who qualifies as "minor" at best, which just feels preposterous. Not sure whether Knopf rushed this to press or whether the author, Richard Mason, just got lazy, but if one of my literature students submitted for grading an ending this sloppy and abrupt, I'd give them and "incomplete" and make them rewrite it.

This is a challenging book to summarize. It's being marketed as a sexual romp but it doesn't really contain enough sex to be a romp (people *think* about sex a great deal, but rarely act on it), nor yet enough plot to justify it as a novel. Parts of it are interesting - especially the first part of the book, which provides some interesting insights to what life was like for upper class Europeans during the turn of the century. But taken as a whole, I can't find a lot of reasons to justify recommending this as worth the investment of time it takes to read it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Good, but could have been great Feb. 20 2012
By DelusionalAngel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
First the positive - I did enjoy the writing, the time period, and yup even the overall story. Set in the early 1900s we follow Piet as he attempts to make a life for himself -- not just a life, a good life. We join up with Piet just as he's taking a job with one of thee families in Amsterdam. He's tasked with being a "tutor" for their young son, but really he's expected to be much more than a tutor -- instead the family is hoping for something of a miracle worker, someone who can cure the boy of his spoiled eccentric ways (ways we'd likely call agoraphobia and OCD at the very least today). Piet, using his charming ways and good looks, wins over nearly everyone in the household and seems well on his way to a life well beyond any he could have dreamed of.

It's definitely a book to hide from the kiddies or prudish types due to the numerous sex scenes (straight, gay, married, married to others, you name it -- it's all here). There's also plenty of god talk (blaming, crediting, etc etc) which is always a sure fire way to get some people worked up.

The problem? In the end it just fell flat at developing some of the characters as well as it should have. Yes I realize that this was to be a book about Piet -- that's no excuse to neglect characters that it is introducing us to as so important in this time frame in his life and just failing miserably at going into details when it comes to them while going into such details at such silly things. I found myself feeling like I was missing out on some of their lives or some of their motives, etc far more than I felt the need to read more about Piet... A good thing perhaps in some ways, still it just made me feel, in the end, like something was missing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Not much of a pleasure for this reader... Feb. 24 2013
By Suzi Hough - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Ambitious Piet Boral loves the finer things in life, so he secures a position as a tutor for the son of a wealthy Amsterdam businessman. Boral lacks any specific training for treating the boy's crippling agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but his good looks and smooth manner soon win the family to his side. He seduces the mother while the daughters flirt and the father proudly educates the young man about his collections of art. But Boral isn't truly a member of this gilded world, and if he doesn't succeed in treating the son's problems, he'll be forced back into his old middle-class life. The tutor is determined to prevent this from happening.

The biggest problem that I had with this book was the main character and narrator, Piet Boral, never seems to fully engaged with the characters around him. He's always remote and detached, never emotionally invested. This infects the rest of the narrative; the sensuality of fine food and clandestine encounters with the mistress of the house are described, but they aren't *lived*. I never felt fully invited into the story; I only felt like I was just one more person that Boral was trying to manipulate with a carefully crafted tale.

One of the reasons that Piet Boral seems so distant and unreal is that he's just too much beloved. Every single character he meets, man or woman, seems to fall in love with him - or at the very least, they lust after his 'muscular and well fashioned' body. After a while, the encounters were no longer interesting because they were so very predictable.

The first half of the book, in which Boral lives as a tutor with an upper class family, has its problems but it is far superior to the second half. Boral, having come into some money, buys a ticket on a cruise ship to South Africa so that he can continue his highfalutin' lifestyle. It's a new setting, with new sexual partners, but the plot was dead in the water.

The characters and struggles that I was interested in got very little page time - for example, I would have loved to see more of Egbert, the child who suffered from OCD and couldn't leave the house. It would have been nice to learn more about him and how he had become so troubled, and what his daily life was like. Alternatively, the boy's father made a vow of celibacy after his son was born, and throughout the book suffers major financial blows that he attributes to an angry God. His inner life, though we saw it only in glimpses, was far more interesting that Boral's.

The story just seemed too shallow - not terrible, but not worth the time it took to finish the book.

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