Cover Image: The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle

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Member Reviews

I thoroughly enjoy reading fiction set in this era. The characters are outrageous and at times quite dreadful. This does not detract from the lyrical prose and deep debates on Descartes and fellow philosophers. Acerbic wit and often sharp judgements on the tight restrictions of the time are prevalent throughout the novel. It was good to read something apart from psychological thrillers!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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I was drawn to this book first by the intriguing title. Who is Mr Lavelle and why is he ‘intoxicating’? Now that I’ve met him, I don’t think that’s the way I would choose to describe him; ‘annoying’, ‘rude’ and ‘unpleasant’ are better words, I think. However, I don’t suppose it matters how I feel about him; this is not a book about my own experiences with Mr Lavelle, after all – it’s a book about a young man called Benjamin Bowen and how Mr Lavelle is seen through his eyes. And to Benjamin, Lavelle really does seem to be as dangerously intoxicating as a drug.

Benjamin and his brother Edgar, both in their early twenties as the novel opens, have led sheltered, secluded lives, educated at home by a tutor and discouraged from mixing with other boys. Their Welsh father and Dutch mother want their sons to be accepted by the English upper classes in a way that they never could themselves, and have decided that now, in 1763, it is time to launch Benjamin and Edgar into the world and send them on a Grand Tour across Europe. This is their opportunity to meet ‘People of Quality’, to make impressive new friends and connections and to develop their knowledge of art and culture.

Edgar, desperate to please his parents, does his best to fit in with the people they meet and to give no hint of coming from a family who are ‘in trade’ (Mr Bowen owns a shipping business). Benjamin, on the other hand, is less enthusiastic and when he meets the beautiful, subversive, unconventional Mr Horace Lavelle, he is captivated and quickly finds himself falling in love. Knowing that his relationship with Lavelle could destroy Edgar’s chances and leave their parents’ dreams in ruins, Benjamin must decide whether his own happiness is more important to him.

I found The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle entertaining in parts and, being told from Benjamin’s point of view, written in a style that is usually quite readable and engaging. I say usually, because there are also several passages that feel more like pages from a philosophy textbook than a novel as characters have long discussions on Voltaire or Descartes in the sort of dialogue that doesn’t feel at all natural. In fact, there wasn’t much about this book that did feel convincing to me; I never felt as though I’d been truly submerged in the 18th century setting and the author’s decision to overlook anachronisms didn’t help (he admits in a note at the beginning that the terms Enlightenment and Renaissance weren’t in common use at that time, but he uses them anyway).

I did like the idea of having the Grand Tour as the backdrop for the story, although it would have been nice to have been given more vivid descriptions of the places the brothers visited and the things they saw there. Of course, Benjamin sees very little anyway once Lavelle comes into his life and he begins to disregard the itinerary of museum, art gallery and theatre visits carefully planned for him by his mother. Lavelle, as I’ve said, is someone I didn’t like at all; I can understand why Benjamin, coming from such a sheltered background, may have found his fearless, rebellious attitude exciting, but all I could see was a man who was needlessly cruel and insensitive and who thought it was clever to use crude language and offend and ridicule everyone around him. The author does a good job, though, of showing how easily Benjamin becomes ‘intoxicated’ by Lavelle and how he is made to think differently, as well as depicting some of the challenges faced by men like them in a time when homosexual relationships were not seen as acceptable.

Most of my sympathy was actually reserved for Edgar who wants so desperately to establish himself in society and make his parents proud. I really felt for him as he begins to discover the upsetting truth that no matter how hard he tries, his family’s position means that he will never be fully accepted – and that, as it must seem to him, his own brother is doing his best to embarrass them both and ruin their chances.

I was interested enough in the lives of Benjamin and Edgar to continue reading to the end, but the problems I’ve mentioned – particularly my dislike of Horace Lavelle – left me disappointed with this book overall.
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I’m undecided about this novel. 
The writing was excellent. The setting of it, the philiosophy, the whole ethos of the Grand Tour were very well portrayed. It addressed very important questions about the way society conforms, their prejudice and downright blinkeredness and the inevitable fallout. 
However much I sympathised with Edgar and Benjamin and the way their die was cast to a certain extent with their upbringing and education being entirely engineered by their parents to produce successful “Quality” men, I actively disliked them and found them unpleasant. But I guess that’s partly the point…
People who are easily offended may want to give it a miss.
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In 1763, Benjamin and Edgar are the two English sons of a Welshman and a Dutchwoman, raised with the sole aim that they should fit perfectly into English society. Following an initially sheltered upbringing, the boys are sent together on a Grand Tour of Europe. The story is told from Benjamin’s point of view as he begins to rebel against the wishes of his parents and explores his sexuality as a gay man, further encouraged following his meeting with the titular Horace Lavelle. 

Set during the enlightenment, this book explores the many ways in which English society was not enlightened. From the class divisions, the importance of reputation, slavery, antisemitism and of course, homophobia. 

There’s a lot to unpack here from a book that at first glance appears to be just a coming of age tale during a European romp. In fact, the parts I enjoyed best were set back in England as Benjamin struggles to come to terms with everything he has experienced and learnt. The scenes set on The Grand Tour itself fell a little flat for me, often lacking in description it felt like a missed opportunity. 

I  found Lavelle himself to be a somewhat off putting character. I’m all for a good anti-hero but he just became more and more unlikable. He is given a tragic backstory but I didn’t feel this was sufficient enough to explain all of his behaviour. Benjamin’s initial infatuation with Lavelle is easy to believe but I found it hard to understand why it continued past some points. Of course, love can be like that but Benjamin only ever spent the briefest of time really exploring his feelings for Lavelle, despite increasing complications. 

Edgar, Benjamin and their parents are much better characters, complex, and in their parents case toxic, in their own ways but also much more human and understandable. They’re family connection and tensions were a highlight of the story. 

There are many layers to this book beyond its initial description and at times takes quite a dark turn. Overall, it was interesting and enjoyable but my dislike for Lavelle and the missed opportunity to present a really wonderful setting meant I struggled to truly engage and love it. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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My thanks to Penguin Random House U.K. Hutchinson for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle’ by Neil Blackmore.

The novel opens in 1763 as brothers Benjamin and Edgar Bowen embark on their Grand Tour of Europe. This rite of passage has been organised by their mother,  who wants them to meet People of Quality and establish themselves in high society.

Their trunks are full of powdered wigs and matching suits and they have a hunger to experience the architectural wonders of Europe. However, the Bowen family may be wealthy but no amount of preparation can overcome the fact that the family is ‘in trade’. 

As this prejudice begins to impact on the brothers, Benjamin meets Horace Lavelle. He is beautiful, charismatic, seductive, and delights in exposing the pretensions and prejudices of their milieu. It isn’t long until Benjamin’s every thought is consumed by the intoxicating Mr Lavelle. 

During this period of history to act on these feelings could, if discovered, result in a death sentence either by the State or by the mob. 

I didn’t find Benjamin at all a likeable narrator. He is extremely selfish and clearly determined to have his way, no matter the consequences. In addition, while Benjamin found Mr Lavelle fascinating, his flamboyant game-playing and petulance irritated me. Perhaps this was intentional. Levelle felt very much the archetypal figure of the trickster, fearless of consequences yet dangerous.

My dislike for these characters didn’t diminish my appreciation for the novel itself. Levelle’s mercurial, mocking nature effectively revealed the shallowness of the society that Benjamin aspired to be accepted into.

This is a novel very rich in imagery and I admired Blackmore’s ability to bring the period so vividly to life. In the section based in Paris he highlights the decadence of the Ancien Régime, notably during a salon hosted by the illegitimate daughter of Louis XIV, described as older than Methusela, but said to be a beauty in her day. 

While uncomfortable to read in places this is a
powerful work of historical fiction highlighting aspects of the eighteenth century - some that continue to echo down the centuries.
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Thank you so much to NetGalley and the Publisher for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I had heard excellent things about this one, and I had fairly high expectations for it. Perhaps that coloured my view of it, at least a little. I thought I'd find greatness here, and on that level, I think it misses the mark, but I DID enjoy the read.

I found the beginning and set up a little dry, and there was an unbalance in terms of time setting. It is meant to be written as though in the 18th century but at times it feels a little too modern. I didn't feel like this one painted enough of a picture about the historical setting; I like to be transported there and for that to happen it needs detail which this was sadly lacking.

However, the themes of class, sexuality and social expectations are played out well, and I enjoyed the shifting dynamics between our main characters. This is a highly sexually charged novel, so if that offends you give it a miss.

I enjoyed this one as a light and easy entertaining read.

3.5 stars from me.

(Review published on NetGalley and Goodreads on 01/08/20, to be posted on other third party sites on the date of publication)
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This is a visual book (perhaps a TV drama?) because the characters especially Horace Lavelle are so outrageous. I liked the contrast with the brothers and the awakening of sexual desire by Benjamin as the two brothers set out on their Grand Tour of Europe
I also slightly struggled with the dialogue which seemed not of the time but the difference in class was perfectly described ads the brothers meet up with those who see people in 'trade' as so much more lowly.. Fun with a chilling turn of events it's a good read but has the author pitched something a little out of its period in history?
But  I did enjoy it and the writing and found the characters lots of fun.
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The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore starts with brothers Edgar and Benjamin being declared ready by their mother to go on The Grand Tour, where the young and rich would visit Europe, meet people, see historic sites, and make mistakes.  Above all, their mother makes them swear that they will look after each other, and she is sure that this tour will be the making of them in society.

Benjamin is our protagonist, and so it's his experiences on the journey that we see, along with his meeting Mr Lavelle, which changes so many things for Benjamin, and for Edgar.

It is a story of love, of changes, and of consequences.  I thought it was good, and uncomfortable in places, but didn't want to put it down.  

 The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle  was published on 13th August 2020, and is available from  Amazon ,  Waterstones  and your  local independent bookshop .

You can follow Neil Blackmore on his  website  and on  Twitter .

I was given this book in exchange for an unbiased review, so my thanks to NetGalley and to  Penguin  Random House, Cornerstone (the publishers).
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Neil Blackmore’s “The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle” is a sumptuously described 18th century road-trip for the aspiring upper classes. The tragedy and heartache endured en route and afterwards make this a crazy, powerful and heartbreaking story.

Benjamin Bowen is a tortured soul whose eyes are opened on his grand tour when he makes the acquaintance of the “intoxicating” Horace Lavelle. Rachel and William Bowen have been busy making plans for their sons’ futures but first they must go to Europe to establish relationships with upper class folks before returning home to be groomed to take over the family shipping company.  

All these plans are put in jeopardy following Benjamin’s introduction to the contrary and free-spirited Horace Lavelle.
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For the first third of this book I was convinced it wouldn't be one for me. The writing style takes quite a bit of getting used to, the pace is too fast at times and the historical setting is not very detailed. Much of the time it felt like the story could have been set anywhere and at any point in time. Maybe I was a bit slow, but it wasn't until the end of the book that it hit me... that's completely the point! 

Many themes are at play in this story e.g. travel, family history, art, social class and reputation, but the heart of the story is about love and identity. Benjamin is a gay man struggling to find his place in a world where he cannot be his true self, where he cannot love another man publicly and where the risk of doing so would likely result in his death. In meeting "the intoxicating Mr Lavelle" he finds a sense of freedom and belonging that is frequently at odds with the 18th Century world around him where reputation, status and connections are everything. 

At times this book is hilarious, as Lavelle revels in calling out the hypocrises of art and culture and enjoys making others uncomfortable. At other times it is heartbreaking and surprisingly poignant. The depiction of unrequited love was particularly touching. 

At the start of reading this book I did not expect to end up loving it but once I understood what the book was doing, I really appreciated the message and thought it was executed brilliantly. This book shows how far we have come in terms of attitudes towards those who identify as LGBT+ but also a painful reminder of how much further we still have to go. I will end this review with my favourite quote "The world needs change, not forgiveness". 
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for the ARC.
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3 stars

The writing is not bad but I found the main 'hero' selfish and really disliked the way he treated his brother.  Perhaps I wasn't the target audience.  I got about half way through and put it aside, perhaps I'll return  to it eventually but life is too short to struggle through something, when there's other great stories out there.  

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I found this book a little difficult to read 
Two brothers who have been sheltered by their mother set off on their grand tour in the hope that they will be launched into society but this is the age of the enlightenment and it appears that their background does not come up to muster 
Both brothers however explore different areas of society with one embarking on a homosexual relationship and the other trying to gain access into the higher echelons 
I found some of the content difficult to read
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I wasn’t a fan of this book to be honest. I was expecting more from the “intoxicating” gentleman...all I found was for him to be gay (in a time when you would be hanged for it ), and have a whole load of baggage which I guessed was coming.

All bar one character were absolute shits as well. 

There was nothing for me to like, or sympathise with here. I found it all a bit dull...

My thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the advance copy for an honest review.
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Unfortunately this was a book that just didn't pick up for me. Perhaps I wasn't it's target audience but the atmosphere, the characterisation just didn't click. Thank you to netgalley and penguin for the review copy.
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I thought this was going to be an interesting book but it fell very short.  In fact I did not finish it.  The Grand Tour for two brothers sounded like an adventure but as soon as they met Mr Lavelle every other word in the chapter seemed to be a swear word,  I expect a little swearing it is what we have come to expect in todays society but this was too much for me so I stopped reading.
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The Intoxicating Mr. Lavelle is a historical bildungsroman that follows two brothers on their Grand Tour of Europe. Edgar and Benjamin have lived their entire lives under the care of their overprotective and domineering mother and father, cut off from the rest of society and any of their peers, with only each other for company. Edgar and Benjamin are finally given a taste of freedom for the first time during the Tour, their parents wanting them to make connections for when they will take over their father's trade business. But as they travel, Edgar and Benjamin have wildly different experiences with their peers and society, especially when Benjamin meets the intoxicating and unpredictable Mr. Horace Lavelle. 

The Intoxicating Mr. Lavelle is a wild romp of a novel, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but always intriguing. This is definitely a quiet novel, more character-driven then anything else, as the book follows Benjamin as his eyes are opened to an entirely different world from the one his mother prepared him for. Even before he meets Horace Lavelle, Benjamin understands that the upper class will never accept himself and his brother, no matter how hard Edgar tries to stick to their mother's plans for them. And then when he meets Lavelle, Benjamin becomes an entirely different person -- or perhaps its better to say, he becomes the person he was always meant to be but had to hide. Benjamin is a very likeable character, and so, to an extent, is Lavelle. At the beginning of their relationship, the reader is like Benjamin, completely drawn in by the untouchable Lavelle and placed under his spell. But as the novel develops, and as Benjamin and Lavelle develop an intense, intimate and loving relationship, we begin to see Lavelle as he really is: an ordinary, vulnerable and traumatised young man. 

I will let readers know not to expect a happy queer ending with this novel. I both like and dislike the ending. I felt it fit well with the tragic nature of the novel and realistic for the time period, but there's still a part of me that was devastated and just wanted a happy ending. 

The novel is also very easy to read and the chapters just flew by. Blackmore's writing is engaging and more modern than not, in order to appeal to modern readers, as the novel is set during the 1700s. Which brings me to the time period: the book didn't feel like it was set during the mid-1700s, it felt more like it was set during the mid-1800s, a whole 100 years later. I can't even adequately explain why I felt like this, I think it was a mixture of the writing, the philosophical ideas explored in the book, and the discussion of people's places within society. 

I still recommend The Intoxicating Mr. Lavelle as I really enjoyed my experience reading the book, but I will let queer readers know to be careful if you are going to pick it up. I'm looking forward to reading more from Neil Blackmore.
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Wow what a beautiful cover !

This isnt the normal type of story I read but thought I would try something different. 

The novel follows two brothers Benjamin and Edgar who go on a grand tour. The minor characters were well written and interesting. I found that I liked this book but didnt love it, I found it hard to get into and the formatting for the copy I had was not correct.
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A son desperate to leave his brother’s shadow becomes an easy target for a charismatic swindler in this sexually-charged novel set across Regency-era Europe. As obsessive as Death in Venice and hedonistic as Dorian Gray; a book for adult fans of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and “uncosy” Regency novels like Death Comes to Pemberly. This book is purely historical fiction but I found myself waiting for a supernatural element to reveal itself, such was the creeping sense of horror and foreboding. There are no gothic monsters here, just handsome human ones.
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Two brothers who have been brought up in a very secluded way go on a Grand Tour of Europe in the second half of the 18th century. There the younger, Benjamin, gets captivated by the at times outrageous Mr Lavelle.

My problems with this book started near the very beginning, when there is a reference to a passenger liner company founded by their father to take fashionable people from London to New York. Really? In the mid 18th century???

I am afraid I found it hard to take the book seriously after this. There were sex scenes which are best skipped. There were references to 17th and 18th century philosophers but these seemed to me just to give an air of artificial intellectual sophistication. There was the odd use of a word we would not use today alongside language that is very contemporary.

I am afraid the book just did not work for me.
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When Benjamin and Edgar Bowen embark on a Grand Tour of Europe, they are ready to meet People of Quality. They have trunks full of powdered silver wigs and matching suits, a hunger to experience the architectural wonders of Ancient Rome and an ability to quote Voltaire (at length). They will make connections and establish themselves in high society, just as their mother has planned.

But it quickly becomes clear to the reader, if not to Benjamin and Edgar, that mother does not always know best. If they do come across 'People of Quality; then those people do not want to know them. And on their travels they discover a shocking truth about their mother. And then Benjamin meets Horace Lavelle and falls in love...

I honestly didn't enjoy this book that much. I can see why so many other readers have, The writing it glorious and the book sets a cracking pace. But not for me.
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