Edmund White
Forgetting Elena
The Joy of Gay Sex
Nocturnes for the King of Naples
States of Desire: Travels in Gay America
A Boy's Own Story
The Beautiful Room is Empty
Caracole
The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis
The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction
Genet: A Biography
The Burning Library
Our Paris: Sketches from Memory
Skinned Alive
The Farewell Symphony
Marcel Proust
The Married Man
Loss Within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS
The Flâneur
Fanny, A Fiction
Arts and Letters
My Lives: An Autobiography
Terra Haute
Chaos
Hotel de Dream
Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel
City Boy
Sacred Monsters
Jack Holmes & His Friend
Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris

 

Also available in French

Also available in German

The Farewell Symphony (1997)

The Farewell Symphony, named after the work by Haydn in which the instrumentalists leave the stage one after another until just a single violin is still playing, is the story of a gay man who has outlived most of his friends. But this novel is as funny as it is sad, as sexual as it is elegiac, and it attains a resonant power as the self-portrait of an artist, a writer learning his craft.

Starting in the late 1960s and coming up to the present day, the action of The Farewell Symphony takes place in New York, Rome, and Paris and is as much about the Jamesian dilemma of the American in Europe as it is about braving the elements of love and loss. At its heart is the tale of a writer and his struggle to survive as he and his friends hammer out a new gay aesthetic, support themselves through odd jobs and fight for recognition. The narrator also allies himself with an older, richer and more established generation of gay men who are often uncomfortable with the sexual frankness of his prose—and of his nightly adventures. The novel brilliantly juxtaposes scenes of high cultural discussion among men of the Manhattan mandarinate with tough, gritty scenes of backroom sex and sadomasochism.

If the central theme is the coming-of-age of a novelist, that subject is paralleled by two others: family love and romantic love. The narrator's sister undergoes a skirmish with madness; his mother torments him; he adopts his sister's teenage son, and—poignantly, absurdly—goes through a spell as a surrogate parent. At the same time, we follow the narrator through a series of painful, occasionally hilarious love affairs that culminate in a late and spiritually transforming relationship with a dying man.

Time dilates and contracts as the narrative flows like memory, moving between the present and the past, and the compelling shape of The Farewell Symphony grows to encompass both a generation and an individual life in a wholly original way. Sublimely funny and wise, written in a language of extraordinary elegance and full of trenchant, witty observations about sex and society, this is Edmund White's greatest novel, a crowning achievement by one of the finest writers in the language.

 

 

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