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In the Absence of Men (Vintage Editions)


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Like Michael Cunningham's homage to Virginia Woolf in The Hours and Jean Rhys's to Charlotte Bronte in The Wide Sargasso Sea, Philippe Besson's extravagantly praised first novel pays tribute to Marcel Proust. It also dares to introduce an asthmatic middle-aged Proust into its masterfully manipulated plot and invents a series of deeply felt letters written by him to the novel's young protagonist, Vincent de l'Etoile. In the summer of 1916, the emotionally precocious Vincent, who is the same age as the century, awakens to the possibilities of both erotic and platonic love. In the course of one week-at literary salons, at the Ritz, in cork-lined rooms-Vincent launches an intense friendship with the celebrated Proust, while at his parents' house in Paris he embarks on a sensual journey with Arthur Vales, the soldier son of a family servant, on leave from the front. Unknowingly, Vincent is also beginning a passage into a manhood that will be haunted by the secret he uncovers behind the love he bears for a doomed French infantryman and a famous middle-aged Jewish writer.