Alexander's Choice by Edmund Marlowe
Sweet-natured, intelligent and good-looking, thirteen-year-old aristocrat Alexander Aylmer seems to have everything going for him when he goes to Eton, the prestigious English public school.
Within months, however, tragedy strikes, leaving him vulnerable, heartbroken and increasingly alone, forced to find his own emotional salvation in a world that is effectively uncaring despite its good intentions. The longings recently come with puberty aggravate his turmoil until he sees the solution to them is the key to everything. Two very different people seem to promise help.
Timid Julian Smith, three years older, nurses two secrets he is terrified the other boys might discover: his humble background as the son of a removals man who had saved all his life to send a son to Eton, and his being hopelessly in love with Alexander.
Damian Cavendish, a charming, young English master, is romantically only interested in women. He is conscious though of a special affinity with boys that has brought him to Eton determined to teach and befriend them. He burns too with a longing to find himself badly needed.
By luck and pluck, Alexander finds his way to unsurpassed happiness. But can he really get away with making his own choices as to how, without regard to what society has decided in advance is good for him?
Alternately uplifting and heart-wrenching, and at times erotic, Alexander’s Choice candidly depicts a kind of passionate love the world is averse to recognising. It also reveals unflinchingly the brutal reality that can face a boy trying to have his emotional needs met in a society fallen into frightened confusion about the sexuality of early teens.
Edmund Marlowe, himself an old boy of the school, has in this, his first novel, accurately evoked the idiosyncratic but appealing world of Eton, which carried on in many of its centuries-old ways, but could not protect its own against the new spirit of the 1980s.
(from the back cover)
"The sex scenes are thrillingly frank. And there's fun to be had ... in trying to identify who the people in the book might be in real life. Eton had a bumper crop of future statesman and celebs in 1983 - David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Earl Spencer and Dominic West among them. Is Alexander's Choice a roman à clef? Is Julian, with his "wavy dark brown hair and thick spectacles" a fantasy portrait of the future Detectice McNulty? Alexander has "dazzling white teeth" and "golden-blond hair": is he based on Bojo? Earl Spencer?"
The London Review of Books, 15 July 2013. Read the full review here.
"Eton's homoerotic whodunnit! ... Alexander's Choice is being feverishly read by as many Etonians, past and present, as can get their hands on it. The 422-page potboiler is being hailed as the Etonian version of Fifty Shades Of Grey ... OE author Guy Walters tells me: 'The book is set in the Eighties when I was there -- David Cameron, Boris ... -- were all contemporaries ... It's quite clear ... whoever wrote it was with us at school,' he says. 'It's great fun and is actually rather well written.' "
The Daily Mail, 21 March 2013. Read the full review here.
"Alexander's Choice is an entertaining, engagingly written novel which confronts serious and controversial issues with an unprejudiced, fresh perspective, daring to question the rigid constructs of contemporary society."
S. P. Somtow, 17 May 2013, multiple-award-winning author of 57 books.
Read the most hostile review with interesting comments here.
Read the Evening Standard article about Alexander's Choice here.