In Youth is Pleasure by Denton Welch

I confess that, had Matt Hutchinson at Penguin Random House not sent me a copy of In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch in return for an honest review, I would never have heard of it! That said, I’m delighted to share my review today.

Originally published in 1945, this edition of In Youth Is Pleasure was published by Penguin Classics on 1st July 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

In Youth Is Pleasure

Orvil Pym does not fit in. A waifish, eccentric, sensitive fifteen-year-old, he hates school and longs to be alone. Spending his Summer holidays in a genteel Surrey hotel with his mysterious father and two brothers who don’t understand him, he explores ancient churches, spies on a man rowing in the river and collects antiques, escaping into his own singular aesthetic world. First published in 1945, this is an unforgettable portrayal of a young man’s sensuous coming-of-age.

My Review of In Youth Is Pleasure

The summer of 15 year old Orvil Pym’s life.

In Youth Is Pleasure is an astonishing read. Very much grounded in its era, with genteel hotels and societal manners, it also resonates in today’s society with absolute relevance. I found it intense, insightful and unique.

Orvil Pym is an incredibly vibrant character. His burgeoning homosexuality, his sensitive reactions to the world around him and his desperate loneliness and separation from those who know him, make him utterly fascinating and deserving of pity in the true sense of the word, whilst simultaneously generating admiration from the reader. I felt I had come to know him intimately. However, equally as effective as the depiction of this young boy was my increased awareness of the world around me seen through Orvil’s eyes and perceptions. I felt I had been given privileged access to a vivid world I would otherwise have missed in reading In Youth Is Pleasure.

Denton Welch presents the world with thrumming sensuousness and sensuality because of the magnificent use of the sense in his writing. Whilst much of the description comes through Orvil’s vivid and frequently disturbing imagination, there’s such richness in the text that In Youth Is Pleasure gives the reader a heightened awareness too. Alongside the descriptions is great violence and tenderness so that In Youth Is Pleasure feels balanced, nuanced and affecting. The writing is mesmerising.

The plot, however, is simple; Orvil spends a few weeks in an hotel and staying with a boy from his school. Much of what we read is prosaic as he visits a church, or rides a borrowed bicycle, but that belies the intensity of the narrative and the beauty of the language Denton Welch employs. In Youth Is Pleasure is a masterclass in emotion, in coming of age and in identity.

With themes of sexuality, family, friendship, abuse, education, violence and tenderness In Youth Is Pleasure left me reeling and actually feeling rather inadequate because I so admired the quality of Denton Welch’s prose.

I finished In Youth Is Pleasure thinking I have been given exclusive access to a gay icon, to a world I know little about and to a brilliance of writing I can only envy. It’s a remarkable book.

About Denton Welch

Denton Welch was born in 1915 in Shanghai, the youngest of three brothers. After attending boarding school in England, he enrolled at Goldsmiths’ School of Art in April 1933 to study painting. In June 1935, while still a student, he was involved in a cycling accident that left him bedridden for the rest of his life, and he turned to writing instead of painting. He died in December 1948, at the age of 33.

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