Author Richard Mason
Piet Barol, the titular pleasure seeker, is a priapic, ambitious young man come to seek his fortune in belle époque Amsterdam. Unlike Frédéric Moreau in Flaubert's L'Éducation sentimentale (to which this book owes no meagre debt), Piet is magnificently gifted, not only "extremely attractive to most women and to many men", but also a fine pianist, draughtsman and lover. We first meet him interviewing for the role of tutor to the son of the wealthy hotelier, Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts. All is not well in his gilded household. Egbert, the son, is agoraphobic. The matriarch, Jacobina, hasn't been touched by her husband in almost a decade. Into this highly strung atmosphere comes Piet, charged with the task of freeing Egbert from his paralysing fear of the outside world. We soon realise, however, that Egbert isn't the only one in need of help. Piet sets about liberating the libidos of the repressed family through music – championing bawdy Bizet over abstract Bach – and oral sex. While the setting is Dutch, the influences are French – think Bel-Ami, Les Liaisons dangereuses and Gide's L'immoraliste.Review: Piet Barol is a classic, seductive, golden boy who comes from modest means, but rises with the help of good looks and some common-sense charm that carries him a long way. The book is divided into two parts, with Piet Barol the focal character that pulls it together. The first half is intriguing and builds as the imperfections, phobias, morals and obstacles of the characters are revealed. Based on this, I would have rated the book higher, but then disappointment occurs when the period with the Vermeulen-Sickerts family is neatly tied up and Piet Barol abandons ship and sets sail to Cape Town. It is too neat and tidy for my taste. All is so quickly forgiven and realized, which gave me pause. However, there is room for a sequel and I'm hoping this is merely a set-up for more to come, but despite Piet's evident talent of the tongue, he left me unsatisfied. The second half takes place on the ship heading to Cape Town. This is a bit rushed and convenient as well. Piet gets himself in some situations, but is always saved or let off the dangle rather easily. This decreases the tension and gives a ho-hum outcome. It's a touch taboo and a bit randy in places, but all in all too light in scandal and risk. I wanted more at stake, or at least a better build up with nail-biting disappointment. History of A Pleasure Seeker floats causally like an imposter at a party no one really cares if you crash.
*ARC provided by Knopf courtesy of Amazon Vine for review