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A True Story of Gay Paris

The Man in the Red Coat

By Julian Barnes (Knopf: 2020)

Julian Barnes’s latest book, The Man in the Red Coat, is reviewed by noted gay author Colm Tóibín in “Shadow Selves” in the August 20, 2020, issue of The New York Review of Books.

Tóibín’s review is long and rambling, and he gets so caught up in the fascinating details that I had to turn elsewhere to answer the basic question of “What is this book?” The answer: It tells the true story of a famous Parisian gynecologist of the Belle Époque (1870-1914) named Dr. Samuel Pozzi (second from right) and of the circle of æsthetes in which he traveled.

Pozzi was not gay, but his friends and acquaintances included a number of well-known homosexuals: Oscar Wilde (center) and Marcel Proust (second from left), who need no introduction; Count Robert de Montesquiou (at right), often said to have been the inspiration for the sodomite Baron de Charlus in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past; Prince Edmond de Polignac (not shown), a closeted aristocrat; and the possibly gay John Singer Sargent (at left), who famously painted Pozzi’s portrait.

I have not read the book myself, so I cannot say how much meat there is to grab the interest of a gay reader. But given Barnes’s reputation and the cast of characters, it is hard to see how it wouldn’t be an enjoyable read.

Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red Coat (Knopf, 2020) · Illustration by gay·F·fect: Left to right, John Singer Sargent, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Pozzi, and Robert de Montesquiou; originals from Wikimedia Commons · See our review of Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent, which includes an essay by Colm Tóibín.

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