This was one title that was a joy to ask bookstore clerks for: “Do you have Nude Men?” I’m reminded of the Monty Python skit where the customer keeps asking for books by Charles Dickens–the one with two “k”s. The looks that the clerks give you at such a question is priceless.
Terrorizing bookstore clerks aside, Nude Men is worthy of attention for all that lies within its covers as well. I first heard about this book by following a thread on rec.arts.books about novels of humor. (This is a reoccurring thread on r.a.b that you can bet on to pop up at least once a year.) The classics (P.G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome, Twain) always get mentioned, but I follow the thread for those one or two books that no one’s ever heard of before. In this case, I was especially intrigued by the title and the poster’s description of the plot as concerning a fellow who is seduced by an eleven-year-old girl. I thought, “If someone can make this funny, it’s got to be good.”
Good it is, although funny, it should be noted, is not the main thrust of this book. Yes, there’s quite a bit of humor, unexpected and sometimes audacious, as in the seduction scene, but it is the characters–the self-absorbed main character, Jeremy Acidophilus; Lady Henrietta, the painter he thinks he is in love with; her daughter, the precocious nymphet; and his ultra-conservative girlfriend, Charlotte–and their interactions, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, and one whopper of a strange plot that continually surprises, that mark this book as different. It is, of course, a first novel. I say of course because only beginners challenge the status quo of acceptable practice and subjects quite as strongly as this. Even though Vladimir Nabokov wrote a classic on the subject, this is one area that still is taboo, especially treated as anything other than sexual abuse. While I might find it hard to recommend this novel for its humor potential alone, as a work both strange and comical, it is daring and magical.
[Finished 16 November 1996]