I think that the premise is very interesting and really unlike anything I've ever read before. I thought this was going to be more historical romance, not historical fiction, so it wasn't for me as much as I thought, but still very neat.
This exquisitely poignant yet hopeful tale transports us into the life of a young pianist who is plucked from history and placed at the heart of this narrative. Although I seldom delve into the realm of historical fiction, I found this book to be incredibly engaging, seamlessly blending a story firmly rooted in the past with emotions that resonate deeply in the present day. I must confess, as an art history student, I couldn't help but geek out a little over the fact that this book was inspired by a painting. Moreover, I truly admired how Schrefer has taken this historical figure, granting him the spotlight and imbuing the story with his own unique spin.
"Charming Young Man" follows the journey of Léon Delafosse, a gifted and promising pianist who yearns for an external patron if he ever hopes to be recognized as "France's Mozart." He finds himself entwined in the elite Parisian society, forming a bond with Marcel Proust, a young gossip columnist, and gaining the support of a youthful count. However, the path to achieving the fame and fortune he desires is far from straightforward (just like Léon himself). Wrestling with his own identity and feelings toward other men proves to be more challenging than any composition he has ever tackled.
One of the strengths of this book lies in its willingness to leave certain questions unanswered. In the author's note at the end, Schrefer discusses his inspiration for the story and the extensive historical research undertaken. Through this process, the book introduces readers to a relatively unknown historical figure, extracting the essence of his character from the available facts. Léon's story is riddled with uncertainties, as are the lives of Marcel and Robert. The narrative itself is messy, breaking our hearts as we witness these characters navigate their struggles, yet providing a satisfying conclusion that stays true to historical reality.
Ultimately, I believe this type of historical fiction has broad appeal, catering to avid readers of the genre as well as occasional visitors like myself. While the story may not have unfolded exactly as I had anticipated, it unfolded as it was meant to. For me, this was an insightful exploration of a character's life, set against a vivid historical backdrop, delving into themes of class privilege and sexuality in the 1890s. Most notably, it shed light on the queerness of John Singer Sargent, making it a definite recommendation for those with an interest in the subject matter.
I enjoyed this book, but after the masterpiece that is The Darkness Outside Us, I did struggle a bit to love it. I wanted more romance, which is a personal preference of course, but I think the story could have benefited from a bit more on-page connection with the HEA love interest. I know this is based on a true story, but Leon didn't grow and learn as much as I wanted him to. When shit hit the fan for him, I wanted a more triumphant, meaningful bounce-back than what we got. I feel like I was just feeling sorry for him for the first 90% and then never got that satisfying relief of a well-earned HEA. That being said, I did love the characters and atmosphere the author created, and it was very well-written. I'll continue to look out for their work in the future. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.
I really wanted to liek this book, as the premise sounded exactly up my alley. Unfortunately, Leon grated on my nerves the entire time. The erratic pacing (super slow in some parts, then too quick in others) didn't manage to flesh out the supporting cast enough to keep me enaged.
You know, from the cover I expected this to be kind of a cheeky, sexy romp inside a Victorian setting, which I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed. But what I found instead when I read this book was an emotional and thoughtful coming of age story that really touched my heart, and I loved it.
It had its moments of sexiness and over the top high society antics , but the heart of this story was a boy trying to find his place in the world and decide what is important to him. All of the characters felt very clear and specific to me, and I devoured this book to see what happened to them all. The one thing I would change, or rather add, is that I think this book could stand to be at least 50 pages longer, and I think the extra pages could go towards some of the side characters (Leon’s sister and his children friend Felix, to name a couple,) that I feel could use another scene each to flesh them out even more.
I also especially loved the way the music was described, I’ve always thought that in a book about musicians where you can’t actually hear it as it’s being playing, the descriptions of the music can often make or break the novel. Overall I loved this book, and I can’t wait to recommend it like mad when it comes out.
I liked this book a lot! The pacing was a bit off as it seemed to slow down then speed up quite a bit, but I enjoyed how human the characters felt, especially with their worse qualities. A fun read that made me emotional at points.
A beautifully tragic, but also hopeful story of a young pianist pulled from history into this story. Though I don’t read historical fiction very often, I thought this was immensely readable, with a story and plot staunchly in the past but feelings that resonate in present day. I have to admit, as an art history student I did geek out a little about how this book was ultimately inspired by a painting, and I did truly love how Schrefer has taken this historical figure and given him both the spotlight and his own spin on the story.
CHARMING YOUNG MAN follows Léon Delafosse, a young and talented pianist who needs an outside patron if he ever wants to continue being the kind of pianist referred to as “France’s Mozart”. He seems to find his way into elite Parisian society in a young gossip columnist named Marcel Proust, and a patron in a young count. But the path to the fame and fortune he desires is not straight (and neither is he). Wrestling with self and also his own feelings toward other men proves more difficult than any composition.
In some ways, one of the things that works best for this book is that it doesn’t have all the answers. Schrefer discusses in the author’s note at the end of the book his inspiration and subsequent historical research process for this book. This book both introduced me to a new historical figure, taking what information exists about him and bringing out the person over the facts. Léon’s story has some unknowns, and so do Marcel and Robert. The story itself is messy, heartbreaking to see the ways that these characters work themselves out, while still giving a satisfying ending where history doesn’t.
Ultimately, I think that this is the kind of historical fiction that can appeal to you if you generally read histfic, or if you’re just the occasional interloper like I am. While I can’t say that the story went where I necessarily hoped that it would, I think it went where it was supposed to. For me, this was a slice of a character's life study, wrapped in a vibrant historical setting, from the exploration of class privilege to sexuality in the 1890s. Most importantly, it made me aware that John Singer Sargent was queer so, I would definitely recommend it if you're interested!
I really enjoyed this one. Was a really good historical fiction with queer vibes. I would suggest this one.
I really had no idea what to expect from this one, but Schrefer, as usual, delivers a beautiful, mature, and heart-wrenching story that kept me at rapt attention from start to finish.
Léon is such a complex and nuanced character; he feels like a teenager, yes, but also much more than that. He’s dealing with so many things at once (trying to keep his family out of poverty, navigating complex social structures for seemingly the first time ever, dealing with severe internalized and of course externalized homophobia…) while trying to do normal teenage things like make friends and play piano, and that balancing act is what makes this book work so well, He's hardworking, he's emotionally mature (and BOY would he have to be, between Robert and Marcel), he knows what he wants and the entire story builds up to him trying to achieve those things. Of course he's not perfect—that's part of what makes him so "charming," you could even say—but he's earnest, and there's nothing I love more than earnestness.
The middle and ending of this one fell just a smidge flat for me, the former because it seemed to meander a bit much and the latter because it didn't meander quite enough (or maybe I'm just hard to please?). I did still enjoy it, of course, and I can't wait to see what this author does next.
Thank you Netgalley and publisher for this advanced copy.
The Darkness Outside Us was my favorite book last year, and Charming Young Man definitely my favorite book this year. I loved Schrefer's writing style so much. It was beautiful and it suited well in this hisfic love story. I loved Léon's journey to find who he was in the high society of France. I also loved how the characters changed their feelings, it was realistic.
Overall, this book just made me thinking : "I'm gonna read anything fromSchrefer
Charming Young Man by Eliot Schrefer is a very, well, charming little book that was not what I expected, in an entirely good way! This book follows Leon Delafosse, a young pianist, as he comes to terms with himself and his place in society in the 1850s Parisian social scene. We follow Leon through times of great triumph and great loss, through glittering parties and nights spent in a dank apartment with hardly enough francs to pay the milkman. Through all of this, Leon struggles with internalized and enforced shame around his homosexuality.
While in Paris Leon meets a cast of larger than life personalities, many of whom he doesn't seem to fully understand or feel at home with. He tries to fit in with high society and even the boys at his conservatory, but Leon never seems to get along with them as well as he did with Felix, a friend from home whom he spent many quiet hours with and often thinks of, even in Paris. Schrefer's writing brings to life the rural fields of Vernon and the bustling streets of Paris at once, painting pictures of Leon's life. I connected to Leon almost instantly, and towards the end of this book my heart was hurting for him.
While this book was a fairly quick read, I will say the middle meandered a bit in terms of the plot. It seemed to drag to the climax, then was over quite quickly. However, I believe this could be due to the nature of the trajectory of Leon's life, so that we felt the climax and ending as harshly as he did. Overall I loved this book and am so grateful to have met Leon.
I was completely charmed by “Charming Young Man.” The author was inspired to write the book after seeing a painting of the young French pianist, Lèon Delafosse, during a transition period in his own life.
Lèon, who grew up in humble beginnings in a rural French town, with a piano teacher for a mother, is a prodigy before he hits his teen years. His family moves to Paris and he enrolls at an exclusive conservatory, where he bumbles through society politics with the social awkwardness of an ugly duckling among swans; only, Lèon is beautiful, just bumbling and terribly naive. I had trouble seeing what the society people saw in him at first other than his looks and his talent for piano.
With his family’s future pinned on his success, Lèon soon finds himself needing a patron as the money runs out. With the help of a brooding Marcel Proust, who introduces him to a society that rejected him and exposes him to feelings about his sexuality that Lèon has long kept hidden, Lèon stumbles his way into navigating society through salons and parties. He soon finds himself accepting the patronage of a capricious and flamboyant count, but the loyalties of his new friends are shallow.
Lèon finds himself drunk with ambition and the freedom to be himself as he climbs farther away from his humble beginnings, even as he realizes his one true love is back home, his childhood friend, in the place where he can never be himself. But he doesn’t realize he’s just swapped one cage for a gilded one.
I loved the characters in this, especially Lèon and his family. I kept rooting for him to see the red flags in his new toxic society friends; the side characters I liked less. The historical accuracy of being gay in France at that period og time was very well done, as was the challenges of making it as a musical talent and the very real class barriers.
All in all, a wonderful coming of age story of the shattering of innocence, with a nod to music and nostalgia.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.
RATING: 4/5 STARS
Schrefer's sophomore young adult novel CHARMING YOUNG MAN features an earnest green protagonist navigating high society and the performing arts scene in 19th century France. The story is a reimagining of the life of Léon Delafosse, the subject of a John Singer Sargent painting with an ambiguous expression à la Mona Lisa or Girl with a Pearl Earring, featuring many nods to Victorian Era history and famous figures. The writing is magnetic, heartfelt, and opulent - I would describe this style and setting as Oscar Wilde-esque for a young and modern audience. What would have elevated my rating personally was more depth into the central romance which I felt was underdeveloped and principally off page. Nevertheless, I flew threw this book and did enjoy it.
What an odd little book this is! Our hero, Léon Delafosse, is a piano prodigy and beginning composer, studying at a conservatory in Paris around the turn of the 20th century. His family is dead broke, he needs a patron to fund his further education and advance his career, and there the story really begins. Léon gives a performance at a party where he meets Marcel Proust and Lucien Daudet; through Marcel he meets Robert de Montesquiou, at which point I excitedly wrote "CHARLUS!!!!!!" I should have remembered what a nasty piece of work Proust's Baron de Charlus is, because Robert is not only deeply troubled and full of self-loathing but also capricious, cruel, and vengeful.
Throughout Léon's adventures in Parisian high society he remains linked to Félix, a dear friend from his rural hometown. Memories of Félix inform his music -- the playing of it, and then the composing of it. He hasn't left Félix behind, really, except in the geographical sense: they write to each other and spend time together when Léon visits home, and gradually come closer and closer to an acknowledgment of what they mean to each other. Things end well for them, despite some vicissitudes in between.
So, as I started out by saying, an odd little book! Léon Delafosse was a real person, though Schrefer has, as he explains in the afterword, messed around considerably with the known facts of his life. Which leads me to the oddness: Schrefer carefully researched the background of Charming Young Man, and to the extent that I'm familiar with the period and the personae (which is, I'm afraid, mostly through having read Proust), he gets the details and the (mostly terrible) people right. I'm puzzled, though, by his choice of register for the dialogue -- an example that will stand for the whole is that everyone says "Okay," which seems off kilter, not so much for the period, maybe, but surely for that social milieu and in that place. And there's a reference to leaving a carriage in a public garage, which ... did those exist? Maybe they did, I don't know, but the word "garage" (as opposed to, say, "stable") certainly threw me out of the book for a moment.
All the same, I enjoyed myself, and so what if I'd have made different choices for the register of the dialogue? Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
Special Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Children’s Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
Oh my goodness this book, I haven’t read or enjoyed many YA books recently, I assumed that I had grown out of the genre, yet this book made me remember why despite my hesitancy towards the genre now, my all time favorite books are predominantly YA. This book was mature while still having that youthful hope that so many adults lack.
This book did an outstanding job examining the struggles between French social classes. As a homosexual Leon won’t ever fit into his religious home town, but on the other hand his low class and trusting nature prevent him from assimilating into high class society. “He was unnatural here and uncultured there.”
Leon is unsure about what he wants to do with his life. on one hand he enjoys his family and simple social life from back home, on the other hand he loves to play piano and is lucky enough that he is almost at the point where doing what he loves will support his mother and sister.
Leon struggles with who he is he recognizes his desire for other men and within a closed off but wealthy group he is able to be perceived as gay, yet he lacks the grit and savviness that comes with the high class people, he is to kind and unwilling to hurt others
The lead up to the ending was heartbreaking (I don’t cry often, but I genuinely tested up) but the conclusion was real and satisfying. No book is perfect but to me this book was close. I will most likely be purchasing a physical copy.
*I would also recommend that when you finish the book read the authors note! It was really cool to hear about the historical figures in the novel and how the story came to be
Actual rating 4.5 stars.
From The Darkness Outside Us, an ingeniously written gays in space, to a queer historical story loosely based on a real person’s life. Eliot Schefer did it again!
Eliot Schefer based this book on John Singer Sargent's painting of Léon Delafosse (1895). The painting is in the Met, New York, and touched Eliot because of the sad but also ambitious and defiant look in Léon’s eyes. Léon, Charming Young Man’s main character, was a brilliant pianist and composer.
As I said, this story is loosely based on Léon’s life, and Eliot has taken plenty of liberties, so it’s far from historically accurate. But the book definitely captures Léon’s sadness, ambition, and defiance from the painting, just like the intriguing cover does.
Eliot pictures Léon as a quiet, shy, and modest seventeen-year-old in vibrant and chic Paris. He soon meets Marcel Proust, a writer, who takes Léon under his wing and also meets Robert de Montesquiou, a dandy and poet, who becomes Léon’s patron. Both boys are potential love interests. But Léon might be in love with Felix, his friend back home.
Even before I met Felix in the book, I had already fallen in love with him and his friendship with Léon. Léon often has Felix on his mind while playing or composing, and those thoughts are so incredibly tender that I wanted them to be together badly. I imagined the French countryside, cattle, tall grass, clouds drifting across a blue sky, and two boys walking next to each other, not even talking but just enjoying one another’s company. And my heart opened up for them, and a smile reached my eyes. I rooted for them so much, even though I knew Léon might end up with someone else. Léon struggles and feels like he’s wrong everywhere he goes. In mundane Paris, he finds people like him and becomes a society success while at the same time, he also has to perform a role he might not want. And in the French countryside, he can’t be who he really is while it is home and maybe where he truly wants to be.
TDOU and Charming Young Man are difficult to compare. While TDOU was a wild ride, a thrilling and insane story, Charming Young Man is more classical and quieter. There are no insane plot twists and no surprises. Instead of a romance, it’s merely a character-driven story about a boy searching for his identity and finding out where he belongs. And eventually it’s a beautiful story about love.
TDOU and Charming Young Man have one similarity, they’re marketed as YA books, but in my opinion, both books could easily be adult stories. Or maybe it even should be adult stories. At least, in my opinion.
This book read like my favorite classic gay literature, while taking me back in time to Paris and this endearingly sweet, relatable musicians story. My heart broke consistently for Leon, but was pieced back together. Like the blurb says, definitely recommended for those who are fans of Malinda Lo's the Telegraph Club.
The Charming Young Man by Eliot Schrefer is a captivating YA historical fiction novel set in 1890s Paris. The story follows Léon Delafosse, an impoverished young pianist who dreams of becoming France's next great musician. However, without an outside patron, it seems impossible for him to make his way in high society. That's when Marcel Proust, a young gossip columnist, takes Léon under his wing, and the two boys navigate through an extravagant new world. Soon, Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac offers his patronage, and Léon's dreams come true. However, as he gets closer to becoming a great pianist, Léon must choose between his old country life, his family, and his best friend, Félix, whom he may love. The novel beautifully captures Léon's inner conflict and his journey of self-discovery, highlighting the challenges of navigating one's sexuality and the fine line between two worlds. Overall, The Charming Young Man is a must-read for fans of Last Night at the Telegraph Club and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.