Alexander’s Choice

QX were sent a book named Alexander’s Choice to review. As we read it we discovered it to be written for what we believe to be the wrong reasons. 

Alexander’s Choice is set in the strange world of the English boarding school Eton, written by a self-confessed Old Etonian, operating under the pseudonym of ‘Edmund Marlowe’. Whether the former part of this moniker refers to sixteenth-century Faerie Queene poet Edmund Spenser, the latter appears to link directly to the Tamburlaine playwright Christopher Marlowe, he of the quote ‘all they who do not love tobacco and boys are fools’. For Alexander’s Choice follows the story of Alexander Aylmer, a beautiful blonde thirteen-year-old, who engages first in a homo-erotic friendship with another pupil and then, when he is fourteen, in a full-scale affair with one of his teachers.

As is emphasised by the title, Marlowe (as in Edmund) places significant stress on the fact that this sexual engagement is his boy protagonist’s choice to be made. The book claims on a certain level to be a defender of early pubescent sexuality and the right for all adolescents to wilfully indulge this urge should they have the chance. But then Edmund Marlowe is presumably not a hormonal teenager, the Eton depicted in his novel being that of the 1980s, which would place him in his forties now. Why he wrote and self-published this novel appears to be as an apologia or defence of pederasty, the act of man-boy love.

All this becomes clear only as the plot progresses though; initially the reader is introduced to Eton, along with the eponymous Alexander, fresh from prep school. In the blurb on the back – seemingly also written by Marlowe given that the text hasn’t passed through any publishing house – this world is described as ‘idiosyncratic but appealing’. It’s not. In the first warning signs that this entire 416-page novel may be a grievously misguided vanity project, Eton is painted as a paradigm of English splendour simply on account of its privileged families and the money needed to set foot within its hallowed walls. Whatever the college may be realistically like in 2013, passages such as the following are surely the nemesis of any PR agency trying to modernise Eton’s image with the general public:

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‘Julian had been painfully aware of the greater prevalence of physical beauty at Eton, than in Wandsworth, where he thought he had looked as good as the average boy in the street. Whenever he went home and encountered his old acquaintances, he was struck by how often they were gawky, short or flabby compared with what he had become used to. Centuries of breeding and healthy living had resulted in tall, fit and facially beautiful boys being plentiful at Eton.’

One wonders if Edmund Marlowe might be acquainted with the Australian comedy series Summer Heights High and the private school exchange character within it Ja’mie King. Because the above quoted passage has a remarkable similarity to her expressed theories on social selection:

‘I think what happens is, like, out in the outer suburbs ugly people breed with other ugly people, so you end up with really fugly kids. So that’s why when you look around a public school, and on average, like, no offense, but people are more fugly. Whereas in a rich school area – shut up and let me explain – in a rich area, like, hotter people breed with other hot people and have hotter kids.’

The crucial difference between these quotes however is that Marlowe appears to mean his quote in all seriousness, whereas the creator of Ja’mie, Chris Lilley, is playing for belly laughs with the ludicrousness of his character’s words.

But a nostalgic idolisation of Eton, though ubiquitously prevalent, is not this book’s main raison d’etre. Before we delve into the fissures and cerebral cracks that infest the heart of Alexander’s Choice there are some few merits to be lauded in Marlowe’s writing, in the interests of fairness. Firstly, it is not badly written. True, it’s no Death in Venice, but the prose has a simplistic, readable tone to its construction, often almost ‘child-friendly’ one might say. Marlowe’s main characters are, on the whole, not dislikable and the elaborate back stories he creates for each protagonist, though often fantastical, provide depth to their personas.

It is his deep-rooted and constant attempt to change the reader’s mind to his way of thinking, skewering the text like a spitroasted hog, which is most disturbing. Alexander’s Choice is no exploration of paedophilia as in Nabokov’s Lolita, rather it is a polemic railing for, or even a paean to, the supposed lost glories of pederasty. Marlowe repeatedly sledgehammers the reader with reasons as to why this is unimaginably beneficial for a boy, under the pretence of exploring Ancient Greek literature and culture.

In his frantic need to display the physical connection between an adult male and a pubescent boy as something pure and golden, Marlowe manages to display a massive misunderstanding of basic human sexuality. Thankfully for the gay community, he is anxious to keep his characters free from an association with anything so sullied as contemporary adult male homosexuality. Therefore, apart from an occasional barrage of ill-thought out gay slurs – ‘limp-wristed men simulating ridiculously the opposite sex in the ludicrous hope of attracting a real specimen of their own’ – he neatly distances his book from LGBT culture, meaning that no freewheeling religious radical can pick it up as further misused weaponry against gay rights.

However, this does mean he faces a crises of realism. Marlowe goes to great lengths to illustrate the heterosexuality of his characters; towards the novel’s beginning he spends some time clumsily describing Alexander’s discovery of masturbation to girls. Yet when the characters meet one another and become inexplicably infatuated with the need to commit pederasty, huge U-turns in their psyches must be made. As a passionately straight, furiously wanking teenager, Alexander’s quick and unquestioning concession to anal penetration, first theoretically by his older sixteen-year-old friend, and then literally by his schoolmaster, came across more as wishful thinking on Marlowe’s part rather than any plausible examination of a boy’s sexual quandary.

Indeed, one wonders often in reading this novel how far this wishful thinking may inspire Alexander’s thoughts and opinions. Is there an expected literary lacunae between the author and his characters here? Or is this tome simply and transparently reflective of what Marlowe wishes the contemporary real world was like? Alexander’s reaction to finding out about the age of consent law, before he becomes lovers with his English teacher, is one of seemingly telling outrage, invoking a reference to the 1984 of another Old Etonian:

‘He realised with a jolt of dismay that the law presumably also forbade Damian to make love to him, if he should ever want to. George Orwell’s novel was obviously far closer to having been realised than he had imagined possible. How dare they! He resolved at once that if he ever got a chance to sleep with an adult, as he hoped more than ever he would, he would most certainly treat the law with the contempt it deserved.’

Later Alexander says to his teacher/lover, Mr Cavendish:

‘“You mean you think there’s something wrong with men having sex with boys? That’s just a stupid, modern idea… You told me yourself that some ancient Greek men did. Alexander the Great certainly slept with boys and so did his father and lots and lots of other great people in those days and they all thought it was good.”’

A lot of Alexander’s Choice smacks of delusional innermost fantasies transposed into a novel’s form. What it does tackle as a noteworthy criticism of the modern age though, is the hysteria with which we as a society treat any perceived act of paedophilia, regardless of its context. Whether the case be the entirely abhorrent abduction of a five-year-old child, or the elopement of a fifteen-year-old girl with her older lover, the tabloid press invoke the same sensational terminology in its reporting.

As it happens, just as I was reading Marlowe’s novel, the front page story of the Metro newspaper was concerning ‘disgraced teacher’ Jeremy Forrest, 30, who eloped to France with his fifteen-year-old lover, a pupil at his school. The facts of the case, as reported on the front page, state that Forrest mouthed ‘I love you’ to the girl in court, she gave her evidence as being entirely in love with him and having instigated the affair, and upon Forrest being sentenced guilty she broke down in court, wept and screamed ‘I’m sorry’ as he was lead away. A prominent social psychologist, Dr Sandra Wheatley, is quoted within the paper as saying: ‘my instinct tells me this was a young couple in love.’ Yet the Metro’s headline leads with: ‘A school predator without remorse.’

Both Jeremy Forrest and his lover, now sixteen, vow to continue their relationship and get married once he is out of jail. Can we really authoritatively and without guilt just tell the girl that she is wrong and doesn’t know what she wants? Her father publicly supports the relationship, a fact left out of the Metro’s reporting. We want our teenagers to act responsibly and conscientiously, to not hang around shopping malls in intimidating, hooded gangs, and yet we tell them also they cannot make a decision for themselves about love and sex.

But, how can I voice support for the girl in Forrest’s case and then condemn a book such as Alexander’s Choice? Because the girl’s voice is her own; Alexander’s voice is only that of Marlowe’s. And although the girl’s face is blurred out, her body has quite clearly reached sexual maturity in the picture published of her and Forrest together. Marlowe consistently and directly advocates physical paedophilia as the only acceptable format in which his characters can ‘love’ one another. Any evidence of sexual maturity or the onset of bodily puberty is painted as unattractive:

‘It seemed obvious to him that boys Alexander’s age, with their smooth, hairless and curvaceous bodies, fresh complexions, slim waists and silky hair were closer to women than men in their appearance, though somehow even more exciting.’

This attempt to present pederasty as a pseudo-acceptable excuse for heterosexual attraction is forgotten later on in the novel when Marlowe writes:

‘Though it curved delightfully outwards behind, a boy’s hips were barely wider than his waist, which gave his bottom the effect of being also much rounder and more delicate than a man’s or woman’s.’

‘He no longer had the slender grace of a boy. His features were all hard, his hair coarse, his nose and chin big, his limbs and behind heavy and muscular and, most grotesquely of all, covered with hair, which also appeared as stubble on his face if he did not shave for a few days. Imagining himself taking Alexander’s place in Mr Cavendish’s bed made him shudder at once. The beak’s reaction would surely be like that of the hero in the film She, when the beautiful young woman in his arms was quickly transformed into a hideous old one, for the difference between a pubescent boy and a young man as an object of desire was at least as great.’

I have spoken at length on this novel because I believe it has been written for the wrong reasons. Perhaps we should listen more to our teenagers’ voices on their own development and sexuality, but in fact there is no choice for the Alexander of Alexander’s Choice; in Marlowe’s warped version of the world there is only ever one course of action his pubescent characters will choose to make (unless they are unattractive). That the novel is reminiscent of a children’s book in its prosaic layout becomes an insidious design when one considers an underlying subtext to its structure that I originally couldn’t put my finger upon: I realised I felt that I, as a reader, was being groomed to believe in the wonders of pederasty.

Finally, what is saddest about Marlowe’s novel, and most pitiful about pederasty in general, is the inherent transience of the ‘love’ by which the characters’ sexual actions are cloaked. With Jeremy Forrest and his fifteen-year-old lover, they profess their wish to get married, and Wheatley the social psychologist states they eloped ‘because they believed in a future’. As repeatedly emphasised by Marlowe, there is no future for the fourteen-year-old Alexander and his teacher. Once puberty has onset and Alexander is no longer a childlike boy, their intricately described ecstasy of love must fade to a ‘deep friendship’. Each pederast is necessarily like Tantalus in his pool, doomed to reach forever for a fruit that will never stay within their grasp.

 

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for reviewing my novel. Despite the thrashing, I must admire the thoroughness and eloquence with which you have lambasted it, but may I “in the interests of fairness” be allowed to raise a few points?

    You attack my integrity at the outset by pointing out that I am now a middle-aged man and no longer a boy, so apparently unable to present authentically my protagonist’s viewpoint. Fair enough to a degree, except that would you so impugn one of the plenitude of middle-aged writers now catering to the public thirst for autobiographical stories of child abuse? Are their stories equally invalid? Or is it only when one’s story runs counter to current politically-correct dogma that one must be damned by not having had the nerve and writing skills to put pen to paper while still a teenager?

    No doubt you are winning some good laughs by quoting extensively and almost exclusively from my obviously rather pathetic third character, Julian. How can it be just though to imply his prejudices are my own when I have so obviously depicted him as an anti-hero? In contrast, none of my characters ever suggest Eton is splendid or better because it takes money to go there, so in ascribing this ugly idea to me I fear you must have got confused with the popular stereotype of Etonian thinking.

    There are indeed striking similarities between the predicaments of Jeremy Forrest’s girl and my Alexander. The one big difference you have pointed out is also true: in my imagination, had Alexander and his lover been left alone, after a few years their love would have evolved and the sexual element most likely have dwindled away. But why in order to be valuable must every human relationship be aiming towards the traditional heterosexual ideal of being lifelong? How can you be so sure that some 14-year-old boys have not had immediate emotional and physical needs much better met without attempting lifelong commitments they may not have wanted or been ready for? A few years to benefit from being loved is a very long time at that age. Despite aspirations to the contrary and the consequent stigma of failure, the average marriage today lasts no longer. I’d further ask you to examine the average length of gay relationships in that same light.

    Finally, where do I “pretend” to explore ancient Greek culture, my abiding interest since I was much younger than my protagonist, as opposed to simply exploring it?

  2. The only aspect of this review worthy of any brief observation, is perhaps its exemplification of the homonormativity under which the ‘LGBT community’ has drowned. As Wilhelm Reich so adroitly formulated, the only political question of significance is to ask why it is that the masses [i]desire[/i] fascism? Why do people fight [i]for[/i] their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation? One need only study the path the LGBT community has followed over the past 30 years to see that Reich’s question is as relevant now as it ever was.
    Consistent with a contemporary culture that cowers in terror of difference, the review of this novel is only capable of interpreting the novel’s protagonist, Alexander, against the background of culture’s image of “The Child” – a lifeless, strategic simulacra; an image which must be protected in order to ensure the perpetuation of hegemonic and hierarchic values. The LGBT community’s collaboration with this strategic image necessarily blinds it to the protagonist Alexander’s vitality as as a living swarm of affections and passions.
    “Alexander’s Choice” is a courageous, resolute work of creation, faithful to Art’s true purpose: the novel proffers a series of controlled yet piercing slices in the protective sheet under which our culture hides, momentarily restoring to us a vision beyond the prison of sterile morality and asphyxiated common opinion. It is unsurprising that the ‘LGBT community’ should remain wilfully blind to this vision.
    The author could perhaps take comfort in Zarathustra’s quiet yet sad realization: your words are not for these ears, which have long-since lost the capacity to hear.

  3. In the interests of fairness, that review was intense!

    Why are kids fourteen or so, sent on trial as “adults” to be sent thirty years in jail? They are old enough to be locked up away, not old enough to love ? Why does our society always associate love, lust and “dirty” all together ? The author of the review conveniently left aside most of the historical aspects of Alexander’s Choice.

    Because Alexander is fictional invalidates everything? It’s not because it’s in the papers that it’s any more true.
    I can already picture him “let’s pick up the newspaper today, I just want to make sure I’m not doing a mistake with my review”.
    Does he really think that because it’s not in the newspaper he picked up that day, that nobody ever lives what Alexander went through ?
    And the age at which the author has written it is irrelevant. Doesn’t he know what it is it to be young ? It seems like a recurrent theme for him, everything must be labeled, timestamped carefully and put in a bottle.

    How much control on other people’s lives do we want to acquire? And who is the most controlling: the teacher, the lad or everybody else around them? And if control there must be, when do we let go of it ?
    Not all juridictions worldwide have the same legal age of consent. Who is right, who is wrong ? Seems like for him it’s all white or all black. In the sense that he is making very convenient shortcuts between paedophilia, rape and Alexander, who is a young (fictional) man, not a little prebuscent kid.

    In the interests of fairness, no love lasts forever, that be for Alexander and his teacher or anybody else. Death has other plans. She was much quicker this time around, that is all.

    “The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.”
    ― Friedrich Nietzsche

  4. Three people thus far have rebutted the review, and done so with surprising cogency. At the very least I would ask the author of the review to address these criticism of his critique. I for one find the contrasting arguments fascinating and would like to see them played out in full dialogue. I’ve considered chiming in, but don’t think I can do better than the three response above.

  5. ‘Alexander’s Choice’
    This is an excellent book. A volume of 416 pages is unusual in this genre, but am unsure why its being reviewed on this site. Spectacularly beautiful thirteen & fourteen year old males with crackling intelligence and ability, with large and healthy appetites for sex do exist. Mr. Marlowe has written about a fictional one. It is neither too high-brow nor prosaic, but written in a straight forward and well paced manner. It seems the author’s style rendered here has not wished to overly colour the protagonist’s sexuality and veer into too much erotic sensuality but is finely balanced within the context of the story. Of that what remains here rendered, it is sufficiently inflammatory but calmly tamed, appealing to the knowledgeable and sympathetic reader.

    The template of ‘Greek Love’ used for the novel provides the fulcrum for the much of the novel upon which it cleverly impinges. The final chapter however wrenches us away from this sublime ideal and into the dirt, confoundedness and bigoted cruelty of modern social reality.

    My general subjective opinion of the work: Moving, poignant, and haunting. It variously elated me to laughter and reduced me to sobbing tears. I rarely pick up a book again so soon after having once read it but needed to in this case.

  6. Dear Reviewer,

    How can you, whilst attempting to cover in all fairness this novel, simply ignore the context in which is is written? One in which an entire generation of kids and adult’s relationship’s (down to parents’s with their own offspring) have been sacrificed in the service of a grotesque modern-day medieval-style sexual hysteria.

    That this hysteria exists and ruins everyone’s lives more than helps anyone, is no discovery to anyone with a mind. You will even know it. And it is clear this somewhat clumsy novel was clearly written, and with obvious courage, in this context. It is the reason, I fear, that it exists (what you call the ‘wrong’ reason). I saw it as clumsy and angry, trying to say too many things, like attempting to solve the nazi problem in a few pages – and to a nazi court. Using provocation sometimes as a weapon. It doesn’t work. But the fact remains: each and every work of Arts or article that attempts to counter the general insanity is a necessity. Like it was necessity that gays battled, and sometimes went too far, to exist outside of the ‘pervert’ sphere.
    Why then completely ignore this context, like it didn’t exist? This is simply dishonest.
    You are dishonest, or you are one of the few that have not suffered pointlessly at the hands of this hysteria in one way or another.
    And no, passing reference to a almost-adult love affair with a teacher from an article in the Mail, does not constitute acknowledging the above problem and seriousness.

    On another point: your comment that since Marlowe was so old he could not possibly reflect the true voice of a youngster is rather …childish. This would, in effect, obliterate every single works of Art ever produced by an adult about a youth as invalid.
    Or is it just for sexual matters that you created this morality?

    Your review, sir, is intellectually and morally dishonest. You could have stuck to the novel’s flaw’s: you felt the need to join the gang, and mix cheap morality where it doesn’t belong. You are just one more hypocrite in that sense.

  7. Review perfectly illustrates how BIGOTED, SELF IMPORTANT, and CULTURALLY CONDITIONED the modern gay community is. Can’t even begin to understand bisexuality or look past the blind rules of their clan and wider modern western culture. Totally not acceptable, in the mind of the article writer, for a teenage boy to have a sexual relationship to male who is a few years older. Immediately label the older male as a “man” and you have the most evil word in the world – PEDOPHILE!!
    Also love the stereotypical anti-elitism that we so often see from the left. “Society will forgive everything except genius,” said Wilde. Substitute genius for excellence, beauty, or prosperity and these pricks jump on it like ravenous wolves.

  8. I have yet to read the book, but having heard so much about it from others – who praise it to the hilt – I can’t wait to read it. I too experienced all that is within the book: as a boy at public school (and at prep-school to a certain extent) and later became fully aware of it when as a schoolmaster myself. Greek Love is as extant now as it was in the time of the Greeks and Romans, and it is only because the World is swamped by hysteria, bigotry and ignorance, that a vast amount of damage has been caused to those who are, in truth, involving themselves in a loving, affectionate and wholly enjoyable relationship. My own boyhood autobiography will prove beyond doubt that a loving relationship between a man and a boy both spiritually rewarding and emotionally beneficial. It is not just a case of feasting with panthers: it is case of being an aspect of life that has taken place for thousands of years.

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