London Triptych – Jonathan Kemp

In the anonymity of a large city, people can shape their identities without much reference to others, apart from the constraints of the law. In this book, the lives of three London men across three generations are plaited together. They have lots in common despite their very different circumstances. Unbeknown to each other, what happens when their separate paths cross influences their habits and behaviour for the rest of their lives.

There is the usual defence of prostitution – that we all pay for sex in some way or another: that it’s a challenge to capitalism.

Some parts are implausible, e.g. a talent scout would not need the phone number of one the young hopefuls because he would already have it.

I doubt whether a semi-literate working-class young man from the late 19th Century would use words like ‘resilience’ nor that he could allude to literary classics, though I did enjoy the pun in his phrase ‘this septic isle.’

I’m not sure what to make of the phrase, ‘Your hair smelt atomic’. Indeed, some members of the group thought the author’s use of language was ‘clunky’, many phrases emotive and his style repetitive. I am also unconvinced by one character’s writing, from prison, to a love who betrayed him in a pale imitation of Oscar Wilde’s de profundis.

Despite these slight misgivings, I found the lure of this book such that I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next and I had to ration myself to so many pages per day. I look forward to the author’s next book which is due out later this month.


“Prostitution is the apotheosis of capitalism.”

“I sat alone, armed with the eye of an anthropologist and the heart of a beggar.”

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