Sinister Blandishments

Edmund White

  • Pleasured by Philip Hensher
    Chatto, 304 pp, £14.99, August 1998, ISBN 0 7011 6728 9

Friedrich, the young protagonist of Philip Hensher’s third novel, Pleasured, lives the sort of dismal half-life that was possible in Berlin before the Wall came down, the period when West Germans received subventions just for taking up residence there. It was a city that attracted the very old, who needed to bulk up their pensions, and the young, who wanted to study or just vegetate – or to escape compulsory military service (another advantage of living in Berlin). Not that you would learn any of this in Pleasured, which pleases (among several other ways) by never being didactic, at least not until the closing pages. Instead of explaining in a few orientating paragraphs what Germany was like on New Year’s Eve, 1988, when the action begins, Hensher plunges us into the experience, as conveyed by the actions but especially the conversation of his characters.

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