If life as a homosexual was half as depressing as Neil Bartlett's second novel makes it sound, the term 'gay' must be a wholly ironic label. Cruelty, loneliness, persecution and suicide, it seems, are the gay man’s lot.
A series of historical documents - a man's fond note to his grandson written in 1886, an extract from the diary of a 1920s socialite, a description of a Mayfair house that has been demolished - provides the novel's framework. In between, Bartlett uses Mr Page (we never find out his first name), a long-serving assistant at Selfridges department store, to tell the strange tale of his brief acquaintance and long obsession with the man he calls Mr Clive.
In one of several acts of homage to Oscar Wilde, Bartlett makes Clive Vail, the dissolute heir to a Chicago family fortune, Mr Page's exact double. Unfortunately, neither character is taken much beyond the stereotypical. Mr Page is kind, fastidious and slightly effete; Mr Clive is vicious, arrogant and domineering.