History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
Published by: Knopf
Published on: February 2, 2012
Page Count: 288
My Reading Format: ARC sent to me by a publicist for consideration
Piet Barol isn’t satisfied with the life lead by his family. His father lives a working class life and has no aspirations for anything better. Piet’s mother, a skilled courtesan who died when Piet was still young, raised him in anticipation for more. She taught him the skills he would need to charm those born into a higher station and to hold his own in their company. He puts his plans in motion by applying for a position with Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts, a wealthy hotelier, as the tutor for his youngest son, Egbert. Piet found that his mother taught him well. He quickly finds not only a place in their home, but an honored place as well. Piet is so impressed with himself that he is even resentful of those family members who show any lack of trust in him. It doesn’t take him long to overcome early obstacles and, in his pride, take risks that alter his course in ways he did not anticipate.
I am drawn to stories where characters with varying degrees of ill intent work their way into the lives of unsuspecting people for their own gain. Piet was one such wonderful character. Although moral enough to feel guilt over his most aggregious offenses, he is able to rationalize his actions and continue course. What made this story that much stronger was the complexity of Maarten Vermeulen-Sickerts’ family. They were wealthy people and, as such, do not garner the amount of sympathy of less privileged people. Still, they had redeeming qualities and there was much going on in that household that had absolutely nothing to do with Piet. They too had dreams of their own. In the end, they were unwittingly able to both get in each others way and open each others eyes to their true potential.
In addition to the basic storyline, what drew me initially to this novel was the setting. My Dutch heart simply couldn’t not read this book. What was surprising to me was the characterization of Amsterdam. During the time of this novel, it apparently did not have the most pleasant scent. Still, the way in which the characters in this book lived gave me the glimpse of Dutch life that I was looking for. This was also the first book I’ve ever read containing a character named Egbert, the name of my paternal grandfather. That he was Piet’s young pupil made me happy. While I would hope that my grandfather didn’t have as tortured a childhood as this young Egbert, I did like having the name associated with youth.
I very much enjoyed History of a Pleasure Seeker. Piet never once planned on murdering anyone, yet the tone of the first section of Richard Mason’s story very much brought to mind A Reliable Wife. The second section of the book wasn’t as strong as Piet’s time in Amsterdam. The pacing of the story of Piet’s journey from Amsterdam was uneven, though it did pick up very well at the end. Also, there was aspect of the story behind Piet’s last days at the Vermeulen-Sickerts home that was just a little too easy. That the novel wasn’t perfect did little to detract from how well this book worked for me as a whole. History of a Pleasure Seeker is a study of the pursuit of a luxurious life, come hell or high water. I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself.