History of a Pleasure Seeker
A Novel

Richard Mason
(Alfred A. Knopf)
Piet Barol is young, beautiful, smart, self-assured. "Pleasure Seeker" implies that he is out for the joys of the table and the bed ... but he has other things in mind. Like setting it up so he will never be poor again.

His first venture in Amsterdam takes him to the home of the Vermeulen-Sickerts. They've advertised for a tutor for son Egbert. In interview, Piet displays such wit and charm that Jacobina and Maarten agree to hire him at once.

For he is, as I say, beautiful, muscular, etc. ... plus he can play the piano perfectly and on top of that, knows to be restrained, elegant --- to make himself ever more enticing. He is an expert artist in more ways than one, and is soon sketching the treasures in the house for the old man. Who naturally begins to love him like a son.

Jacobina too begins to love him but not like a son.

Pleasure Seeker is a picaresque novel, with the required theme as first laid out by Henry Fielding: poor lad with innate beauty and sense of style and a few talents (and wonderful luck) makes his way into the world of the rich and the leisured and in no time at all is involved deeply in their lives.

Implicit here (as it was with Fielding) is the existence of a rigid class line just waiting to be cracked by a talented outsider, who may be more than that: he might be a confidence man. (One of the best of this genre ---- by Thomas Mann --- was titled The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man.)

Piet is just that: confident in himself, able to inspire confidence in others so he can get what he must.

§   §   §

Our hero is so lovely and smart and talented that we get sucked in by him too, begin to worry about him: is he going to be caught pleasuring Jacobina? Will he add to his problems by being seduced by one or both of the daughters? If so, will Maarten have him drawn and quartered for doing unspeakable things with the several lovely members of the family?

And this would be just desserts, for the old man is a prig, regularly gets down on his knees like a good Calvinist to confess to being a sinner, needing more punishment. A decade of chastity gives Jacobina exactly the excuse she needs to rummage up a pair of horns for him.

§   §   §

What starts out as a picaresque novel á là Henry Fielding turns into a D. H. Lawrence gambol with Jacobina, an offer of an alliance with daughter Louisa, and flattering invitations coming from the house servant. Fortunately Piet gets caught with his pants down and is banished to Capetown on a luxury liner (of course). Where he is seduced by an opera singer (her specialty, Carmen) and a rich American nabob who leaves him with enough $$$ to begin his search for a fortune.

It's a merry ride told in an impeccable style. But it isn't until the whole adventure concludes that we realize that we too have been the victims of an elaborate con. The author puts things over on us ... a series of events so improbable that we scarcely have the chance to know that we've been snookered.

Here's Piet embarking on yet another series of high adventures at the end where (once again) this upwardly-mobile street kid will find himself nibbling on tarte aux pommes, downing exotic liqueurs in one of the loveliest staterooms aboard the Eugénie. And he's going to get away with it. Everything that Piet does that should get him a lifetime in the stockade (or thrown overboard) is accepted with love by those who have befriended him, enriched him, let him play on their sympathies, nestled him to their bosoms ... so that he can cuckold them or fang them or --- in some way --- make hay with their affection for him.

Maarten, Jacobina, Louisa, Didier, and Jay --- the rich American --- all forgive him, instantly, his sins. So much so that readers comes to suspect that we too have been cuckolded. For at the very end of Pleasure Seeker, as we near Capetown, we find ourselves wondering how Piet (and the author) are going to be able to carry this one off: dock the boat, shut down the engine, give us what the contemporary psychologist freaks call "closure." We've built up a considerable head of steam here, and we don't want the author to disappoint. And he doesn't.

After spending three days cavorting with the lovely singer Stacey in a luxury room (provided by his previous passion-pot Jay), Piet says, "We will certainly do better together than apart."

    "Of that," she murmured, taking his hands in hers and kissing them, "I have no doubt at all."

Next line:

To be continued

And there you have it. The ultimate con job.

Since we have been so nicely totally sucked in by this randy "pleasure seeker," would we miss the chance to go through yet another volume of bed, bath and beyond with our well-beloved operator?

Are you kidding?

--- Lolita Lark
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