A young homosexual’s struggle to survive in fin-de-siècle London
‘The story I want to tell needs time and space,’ Floortje Zwigtman said in an interview to mark the publication of Tegenspel (Countermoves, 2007), the second part in her Dickensian trilogy ‘Een groene bloem’ (A Green Flower). Fortunately, she allowed herself that time and space: Spiegeljongen (Mirror Boy), the long-awaited 608-page final volume in the series, is now ready to be devoured.
Who isn’t curious to find out what happens next in her fascinating story about Adrian Mayfield, the homosexual working-class son of an alcoholic pub landlord from the East End who goes in search of love and money in the sensual Victorian demi-monde of Oscar Wilde and his aristocratic, artistically-minded friends, mixing with journalists, dandies and young male prostitutes? Who doesn’t want to hear more about this complex young man, who took the literary world by surprise when he appeared in the highly praised Schijnbewegingen (Tricks of the Trade, 2005) and then again in Tegenspel (Countermoves), which Zwigtman wrote with such great power and verve, further developing the ominous storyline and Victorian setting and the theme of living a lie because of sexual taboo.
Countermoves centres upon the homosexual scandal involving Oscar Wilde in 1895, when, following two sensational trials, he was convicted of gross indecency. Zwigtman skilfully combines fact and fiction in the courtroom, where the crowds jostle to watch Wilde’s trial in a palpable atmosphere of ‘disgust and delight’. Adrian, who has clambered up the social ladder through a combination of cunning and deceit, is able to attend the trial as a trainee journalist, but there in the courtroom he is painfully confronted with his own past as a prostitute and with blackmail tactics. London’s hypocritical high society turns its back on him as a result. Even the wealthy artist Vincent Farley, Adrian’s protector and great love, closes his doors to him, but he cannot return to the East End, where poverty, prostitution, drunkenness and death on the streets are the order of the day. Lonely and despondent, he stands on the edge of an abyss as it rapidly crumbles beneath his feet.
Will Adrian survive his existential struggle? Or will Zwigtman show no mercy? Her rich and vivid prose and her engaging voice will not only cause you to gaze in admiration at the atmospheric portrait of Victorian London, but also make you want to read on as quickly as possible.