Book Review of The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle By Neil Blackmore

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle Book CoverThe Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore is a captivating read that effortlessly blends elements of love, tragedy, and philosophical reflection. Neil Blackmore weaves a tale set in the 1700s, a time when societal norms were rigid, and the Grand Tour of Europe served as a rite of passage for English gentlemen. The Bowen brothers, Edgar and Benjamin, embark on this journey, their parents hoping to elevate their social standing despite their own status as ‘in trade.’

Blackmore skillfully immerses the reader in the historical context of powdered wigs and societal snobbery, making the past accessible to a modern audience. The narrative unfolds through Benjamin’s perspective, offering a glimpse into a world where rebellion against ingrained beliefs leads to unexpected, thrilling, and terrible consequences.

At the heart of The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle is a profound love story, yet it transcends mere romance. The novel serves as a philosophical examination of English society, then and now, and a poignant critique of prejudice. Blackmore seamlessly integrates historical facts through the ‘one minute’ game, a clever tool that informs the reader while satirizing and mocking holders of the beliefs presented through the game.

Benjamin provides the main narrative viewpoint, but enhanced by occasional postcards from Edgar, we see the unreliability of all narration and narrators. The true focal point is Mr. Horace Lavelle, a character with a damaged past, shaping a compelling and complex adult. Lavelle’s mantra of “reject, reject, reject” becomes a guiding force, captivating both Benjamin and the reader. The impact of Mr. Lavelle’s presence is palpable, leaving the reader questioning his role as a victim or villain, wise man, or hoodwinker.

Blackmore’s narrative prowess shines through, creating a complex character rarely encountered in modern literature. The acknowledgment of his late friend’s question about taking his work seriously, “This combined with Blackmore’s initial claim of writing as a way to fill time in a mundane job. This duality adds an intriguing layer to the author’s persona, akin to the nonchalant student excelling without apparent effort. Irritating really!

In summary, The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle stands out as a phenomenal piece of writing. It’s probably my favorite book for 2023. I found Blackmore’s writing to be brilliant. It seamlessly blends historical depth with a compelling narrative that keeps readers eagerly turning the pages. The novel’s power lies in its multifaceted characters and its ability to provoke thought on societal norms, making it a must-read for those seeking a thought-provoking and engaging literary experience.

Book Club Questions on The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle

  1. The book concludes with Benjamin declaring, “So, like Lavelle said many years ago, fuck Voltaire. And fuck forgiveness. The world needs change, not forgiveness.” Share your thoughts and discuss whether you agree with this sentiment.
  2. Voltaire, known for advocating reason, secularism, and individual liberties, is criticized by Horace Lavelle in the novel. Why do you think Lavelle is critical of Voltaire, given Voltaire’s ideals?
  3. Benjamin realizes towards the end of the novel that Horace harbors hatred towards Benjamin’s mother. Explore the reasons for Horace’s animosity and discuss Benjamin’s own relationship with his mother.
  4. Horace refuses to take any responsibility for Edgar’s death. Is his refusal justified, and who do you think is responsible for Edgar’s death? Share your thoughts on this matter.
  5. Horace Lavelle shows Benjamin the fruit knife. Discuss your response to this scene and its significance in the story.
  6. Utilizing evidence that portrays Horace Lavelle both unsympathetically and sympathetically, explore the dual perspectives on his character. Which portrayal do you believe is closest to the truth?
  7. Benjamin is willing to give up everything for Horace Lavelle. Is this a wise decision? Discuss the implications of Benjamin’s choices.
  8. Discuss Rachel’s character. Was she justified in hiding her Jewish identity? Do you believe she was complicit in her husband’s possible murder? Evaluate the wisdom and potential misguided nature of her actions.
  9. The novel depicts specific customs during social interactions, such as walking near Tuileries palace for acknowledgment amongst people of ‘quality’. Do you think similar social rites exist in today’s society?

Book Club Questions on The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle (for those who haven't read the book)

  1. Horace Lavelle is described as intoxicating. What aspects of your life would you apply the term “intoxicating” to?
  2. The novel portrays 18th-century Europe as heavily class-based. Do you think modern society has evolved beyond such class distinctions?
  3. The novel contains explicit content. How do you feel about recommending books with explicit content to other readers
  4. Benjamin narrates his life, summarizing a decade in just a few pages. What are your thoughts on this literary technique and its use in addressing “what happens next” questions?
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