Saturday 10 July 2021

Book Review: In Youth is Pleasure by Denton Welch

In Youth is Pleasure by Denton Welch book cover

AD* | Against the backdrop of an English country hotel in a languid pre-war summer, Denton Welch's alter ego, Orvil Pym, examines his early life and formative experiences with a Proustian intensity.

An adolescent voyeur, Orvil takes pleasure in the microscopic observation of his relatives and fellow guests, charting their eccentricities and love affairs as faithfully as he exposes his own obsessions.

Flagrantly controversial on its first publication in 1945, In Youth Is Pleasure will impress new readers with its arresting visual descriptions and its defiance of convention.

In Youth is Pleasure offers a nostalgic reflection on growing up pre-war in England. It's beautifully written and gorgeously descriptive; at once both melancholic yet urgent. 

Whilst I enjoyed this book, I don't know if I could say that I actually liked it. My main struggle is that there is no actual plot to the book. It's a character-driven glimpse into one summer of an adolescent boy's life, filled with those long, hazy summer days remembered from a long-ago golden era. 

It's very much of its time yet also has ideas before its time. Orvil is achingly misunderstood in a world where queerness is discouraged at best and downright forbidden at worst. He is teased and bullied for his appearance, actions, and mannerisms. Orvil's loneliness and sense of otherness permeate through each page of the book, lending even his most manic observations a melancholic sense of despair. 

In Youth is Pleasure is a window into pleasure but also pain. Indeed, for Orvil, the two are intrinsically interlinked. The novel is often contradictory, contrasting the most beautiful scenes with crass, ugly thoughts. As Orvil's mind jumps from one vision to the next, the reader is taken on a journey through so many different states of mind. It often reads very much like a stream of consciousness pouring from Orvil's mind. 

It's often been said that much of Denton Welch's writing is biographical, and once again, it seems as though Orvil Pym is something of an alter-ego of the author. It's easy to see how In Youth is Pleasure may have enraged its contemporary audience upon first publication, yet today, it's still just as arresting, defiant, and understatedly brilliant. 

In Youth is Pleasure is a genre-defying, undiscovered classic. 

Rating: 3 stars

In Youth is Pleasure is available to buy now. 

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Have you read the book? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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