History of a Pleasure Seeker (Paperback)
Vintage Books, 9780307949288, 305pp.
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
February 2012 Indie Next List
— Stesha Brandon, University Book Store, Seattle, WA
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Piet Barol has an instinctive appreciation for pleasure and a gift for finding it. When his mother dies, Piet applies for a job as tutor to the troubled son of Europe's leading hotelier--a child who refuses to leave his family's mansion on one of Amsterdam's grandest canals. As Piet enters this glittering world, he learns its secrets and finds his life transformed.
A brilliantly written portrait of the senses, History of a Pleasure Seeker is an opulent, romantic coming-of-age drama set at the height of Europe's Belle Epoque, written with a lightness of touch that is wholly modern and original.
About the Author
Praise For History of a Pleasure Seeker…
“Terrific. . . . The best new work of fiction to cross my desk in many moons.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Mason’s novel is a gorgeous confection. . . . Piet is the rare character—the rare being—whose unfailing charm and luck only make us cheer him on more.” —The New York Times
“Just try to resist. . . . A Continental Downton Abbey plus sex, with a dash of Dangerous Liaisons tossed in.” —Seattle Times
“This book about pleasure is a provocative joy.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Think Balzac but lighter and sexier—an exquisitely laced corset of a novel with a sleek, modern zipper down the side.” —Marie Claire
“Superb. . . . [Mason’s] gorgeous, precise descriptions . . . mirror Amsterdam’s singular combination of material opulence and Calvinist severity. . . . After this auspicious introduction, many readers will be eager for the next volume.” —The Wall Street Journal
“[An] up-close mix of luxury, labor and longing—plus a country house's-worth of burbling romance.” —Los Angeles Times
“One of the best three books of the year.” —The Independent (London)
“A sharply written story of love, money and erotic intrigue pulsing behind the staid canal fronts of nineteenth century Amsterdam. Mason’s hero is amoral but irresistible. I was gripped till the very last page. Thank God there’s a sequel.” —Daisy Goodwin, author of The American Heiress
“If Charles Dickens and Jane Austen had a love child who grew up reading nothing but Edith Wharton and Penthouse Forum—well, that person might be almost as wry, sexy, and knowing a writer as Richard Mason.” —The Boston Globe
“A picaresque novel in the 18th-century tradition of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones. . . . Piet is a charmer.” —The Washington Times
“Piet Barol is a pure pulse of young manhood; not an everyman, but perhaps the fantasy everyman that every man would like to be.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“[A] Belle Époque valentine.” —Vogue
“An enthralling, perfectly placed romp that breathes new life into the picaresque genre. . . . Piet Barol . . . looks set to become the star of a whole new series of books.” —The Observer (London)
“Exquisite. . . . History of a Pleasure Seeker is a showcase for [Mason’s] nimble writing, but also extends his storytelling prowess.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“[An] artful evocation of the European Belle Époque.” —The New Yorker
“Mason’s new novel—elegant, upholstered and, for all the sex, well-behaved—is part of a trend . . . for historical novels that seem not only set but written in the past—modern tracings, skillfully done, of old tropes, old forms.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“An elegantly written, sexy novel.” —The Daily Beast
“Edith Wharton would be impressed. . . . Lovely and rich.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Mason presides over History of a Pleasure Seeker like a benign god, rescuing his confused but well-meaning characters when they seem doomed and affectionately watching from a distance as they scramble to make satisfying lives.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“A masterpiece. Like Henry James on Viagra. Not only gripping as hell, but brilliantly arranges that the imagined world of Maarten and Jacobina’s household sits entirely within Amsterdam of the Belle Époque. I thought Piet was wonderfully drawn—roguish and yet wholly sympathetic.” —Alex Preston, author of This Bleeding City
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Who is the “pleasure seeker” of the title? Who else might that describe?
- How does Maarten’s repudiation of pleasure define his character?
- What is the metaphor of the tightrope?
- How do the characters’ different religious beliefs shape the events of the story?
- “Like his father, Egbert was deeply private about his interior afflictions” (page 40). Are there other ways in which father and son are alike? How are they different?
- Throughout the novel, Mason calls our attention to shared character traits. What do Egbert and Piet share? Piet and Maarten?
- What role does guilt play in Piet’s actions?
- The voices Egbert hears are guided by color: “toying with primary colors was an offense that merited prolonged punishment” (page 100). Why do you think color affects Egbert this way? How does Mason use color with other characters?
- What is the significance of the horseback-riding scene on pages 109–14? Why does it prompt Piet to carry Egbert outside?
- How does having money—or not having it—affect the characters’ behavior? What about the other members of the household staff? In the terms of this novel, what is the difference between money and class?
- Why is Piet willing to risk everything to see Jacobina? Is he in love with her?
- When Louisa seeks her father’s help in opening a shop, he tells her: “You must marry a man with talent and ambition, whose interests you may serve as your mother has served mine. That is the way in which a woman may succeed” (page 153). Is this true for all the women in the novel? How are things changing with the times?
- What finally gives Egbert the strength to go outside on his own? What role does music play in the decision (pages 154–5)?
- When Piet turns down Louisa’s proposal, what is the result? How does it influence the novel’s denouement?
- Why doesn’t the novel end when Piet leaves the Vermeulen-Sickerts household? How might you have imagined Piet’s next steps, if Mason hadn’t supplied them?
- How does Piet’s interlude with his father change your understanding of his character? How did his late mother shape his behavior?
- What role does Didier play in the novel’s ending? What impact might a different response from him have had on Piet’s future?
- What has changed within Piet, that he resolves to tell the truth to Stacey?