A review of Adam and the Paradise Garden by Peter Gilbert and Tom Holt, Amsterdam, 1983
If the numbers twenty-two, fifteen, fourteen, twelve-and-a-half, twelve, eleven, and nine suggest the ages of characters who might turn up (along with quite a few elders) in interesting roles in an unusual novel, then look no further than Adam and the Paradise Garden by Peter Gilbert and Tom Holt (Amsterdam, Acolyte Press, 1992). Your look in its direction will net the titillation of well-limned sex occurring between teens and men and between teens and teens and in combinations a bit beyond those ranges. Further, you will be drawn into a plot which provides more than excuses for crotch-twitching encounters.
Behind the shenanigans of males and males – novices and pros – is a mystery: a boarding school student’s disappearance (Runaway? Suicide? Murder?). Innocents and the suspicious play their parts in the situation’s path toward solution. If only the missing boy’s diary might be found. . .
Along the way, the story branches into an old tradition of the school, tiddling, which brings the pubescent teens intimacies with four emergent boys. The reader thinks this to be a side-step. In fact, it provides the fulcrum on which the plotline begins its twists. The author's gripping description of the pursuit of tiddling and its pleasures raises questions which may enthrall readers' minds beyond the book's content.
By adroit turns (some less so in latter stages), the authors commingle their characters in unexpected, revealing ways, and manage the sudden disappearance of another student, the complicated Adam who, since page one, has held in thrall his friend Ben.
Again, foul play is suspected. It is there, but is not what we can imagine. Rather, we are thrust into an auction in London for the benefit of science. Medical science, of a decidedly private nature – or so it seems. A dark background thus is revealed to allow us to grasp the opening and subsequent circumstances, which include how Adam developed as he did. A rocky island near Scotland becomes the destination for everyone’s attention as the mysteries unravel and seek resolution and an appropriate denouement.
Virtually no faults are to be discovered in the novel’s first half. Its structure and content are ninety-percent inclusive, reasonable, vivid, living. The mid-point twist finds the authors in what appears to be some state of haste. They allow the balance, so well-wrought before, of elements to shift. Events’ speeds exceed our ability to believe. Missing are the nuances of personal relationships that so absorbed the persons involved (and we readers). Last minute efforts do regain the effect of the start, but without the mastery observed earlier from first sentence to last in Bob Henderson’s Attic Adolescent.
Adam and the Paradise Garden has, besides, finely-written erotic passages that for some readers will more than compensate for its shakily constructed final third.
Reviewed by FC, 15 July 2017