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David Leavitt has earned high praise for his empathetic portrayal of human sexuality and the complexities of intimate relationships. Now Leavitt moves beyond precisely controlled domestic drama to create a historical novel set against the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. While England Sleeps tells the story of a love affair between an aristocratic young British writer, Brian Botsford, and Edward Phelan, an idealistic working-class employee of the London Underground and a Communist party member. When the strains of class difference and sexual taboo impel Edward to volunteer to fight against Franco in Spain, Brian pursues him across Europe and into the violent chaos of war.
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David Leavitt's first collection of stories, Family Dancing, was published when he was just twenty-three and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Prize. The Lost Language of Cranes was made into a BBC film, and While England Sleeps was short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. With Mark Mitchell, he coedited The Penguin Book of Short Stories, Pages Passed from Hand to Hand, and cowrote Italian Pleasures. Leavitt is a recipient of fellowships from both the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He divides his time between Italy and Florida.From Kirkus Reviews:
The title echoes JFK's Why England Slept, but Leavitt's third novel (A Place I've Never Been, 1990; Equal Affections, 1989) is not primarily political: he uses the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop for his love story of two gay Englishmen. London, 1936. Recent Cambridge graduate Brian Botsford runs with an upper-class, left-wing crowd while he labors over his first novel and lives on checks from his Lady Bracknell-ish Aunt Constance (both his parents are dead). At an Aid to Spain meeting, he cruises subway ticket collector Edward Phelan and is soon enjoying the ``raw sexual display'' of this working-class youth, meeting his family and inviting Edward to share his simple bed- sitter. Brian is a fickle hedonist; he abandons his idea of leaving for Spain to fight the Fascists for this romance across the class divide, but then leaves his loyal partner home with The Communist Manifesto while he parties with the smart set and begins an affair with the worldly-wise Philippa, under the delusion that his homosexuality is a youthful phase before marriage and children. The turning point comes when Philippa, knowing Brian better than he knows himself, rejects his proposal; Edward, meanwhile, has read Brian's tell-all journal and left for Spain in shock. Racked by guilt, Brian at last leaves for Spain himself, to rescue Edward from the international brigade; Edward has turned pacifist and is being tried for desertion. He'll eventually be sprung by one of the judges (another upper-class gay Englishman) but will die of typhoid on the sea voyage back to England with Brian. Leavitt has bravely attempted to extend his range; too bad the result is glib and melodramatic. It's not just the corny plot devices: whether it's politics or class, he has the words but not the tune. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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