Piet Barol, the hero of History of a Pleasure Seeker, is handsome, accomplished, charming, and clever. The only problem is that he’s poor.
Piet’s late mother was a talented musician who made an unfortunate match. Through her, he was exposed to high arts, fine taste, and Parisian pleasures, without the means to enjoy them. He manages to secure a position as a tutor with the grandest family in Amsterdam and ingratiates himself with family members and household staff alike. In 1907, a tutor was not a servant but also not the equal of his employers; Piet exploits this ambiguity.
There are a series of predictable dalliances and many scenes in which Piet’s attractiveness and cleverness are underscored. But Richard Mason knows when to pull back too: Piet is no cardboard hero, rather a complicated man with some insight into his flaws and a capacity for remorse. It’s just that he’s a risk-taker who can’t resist temptation.
History of a Pleasure Seeker is a hybrid novel—part historical fiction, part romance, part homage to the Gilded Age. Mason has done some fine research, cleverly weaving in major events and historical figures, as well as making knowledgeable references to the music, art, customs and prejudices of the belle epoque. Piet’s story doesn’t end here; Mason has other volumes in the works. I’m surprised by how much I look forward to reading what comes next.
This first novel actually resembles the hero: shallow, self-indulgent, diverting, not to be taken seriously, but oh such fun.