The Farewell Symphony

( 4 )

Overview

Following A Boy's Own Story (now a classic of American fiction) and his richly acclaimed The Beautiful Room Is Empty, here is the eagerly awaited final volume of Edmund White's groundbreaking autobiographical trilogy.

Named for the work by Haydn in which the instrumentalists leave the stage one after another until only a single violin remains playing, this is the story of a man who has outlived most of his friends. Having reached the six-month anniversary of his lover's death, ...

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The Farewell Symphony

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Overview

Following A Boy's Own Story (now a classic of American fiction) and his richly acclaimed The Beautiful Room Is Empty, here is the eagerly awaited final volume of Edmund White's groundbreaking autobiographical trilogy.

Named for the work by Haydn in which the instrumentalists leave the stage one after another until only a single violin remains playing, this is the story of a man who has outlived most of his friends. Having reached the six-month anniversary of his lover's death, he embarks on a journey of remembrance that will recount his struggle to become a writer and his discovery of what it means to be a gay man. His witty, conversational narrative transports us from the 1960s to the near present, from starkly erotic scenes in the back rooms of New York clubs to episodes of rarefied hilarity in the salons of Paris to moments of family truth in the American Midwest. Along the way, a breathtaking variety of personal connections--and near misses--slowly builds an awareness of the transformative power of genuine friendship, of love and loss, culminating in an indelible experience with a dying man. And as the flow of memory carries us across time, space and society, one man's magnificently realized story grows to encompass an entire generation.

Sublimely funny yet elegiac, full of unsparingly trenchant social observation yet infused with wisdom and a deeply felt compassion, The Farewell Symphony is a triumph of reflection and expressive elegance. It is also a stunning and wholly original panorama of gay life over the past thirty years--the crowning achievement of one of our finest writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Marked equally by erotic fervor and lyrical intensity, the final installment in White's autobiographical trilogy (following A Boy's Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty) is also the longest, the most baroque and the most elegiac. It carries us from the heady days of the Stonewall Riots through the ravages of AIDS. As usual, White subordinates his interest in the larger matters of recent gay history to the task of vividly evoking the men in the narrator's life through whom those events are understoodusually in a sympathetic, Proustian effort at social taxonomy. The giggling, snobbish, closeted 'White Russians' slumming at the Stonewall typify one kind of gay man, just as Brandy, a sequined and exquisitely theatrical drag queen, represents another. The narrator literally embraces many of them, he seems perpetually as surprised by his catholic tastes in men as he is by the fetishes of others. The novel is invigoratingly, rigorously artificial, flirting with mannerism even as it celebrates sprit and erudition in others (one James Merrill-esque poet dismisses some Japanese scrolls as 'the usual swirls before pine'). Expatriate life, first in Rome and then (for a more extensive period) in an initially inhospitable Paris sharpens the narrator's sense of isolation; a rejection slip for his novel sends him into suicidal despair, from which salvation lies (typically) in a liaison with a Danish tourist. As the narrator's writing career flourishes, he finds himself in the rarefied company of powerful, learned editors, poets and novelists -- company that intersects rather than stands distinct from the priapic habitus of Greenwich Village. Extended episodes involving his mother's decline into illness and dementia, his father's death and his sister's coming to terms with her lesbianism highlight the insularity of the narrator's world. The book is best enjoyed not for a strong story, indeed, the Brice for whom the narrator mourns at the beginning and close is rather peripheral, but for its luminous snapshots of New York, Paris and Rome and of the vital parade of mendowdy, forbiddingly gorgeous, sylph-like, ephebic, closeted, defiantly and militantly outthat crowd its pages.
Christopher Benfey
An engagingly bittersweet novel. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
This long, rich fiction, set mostly in Manhattan and Paris, concludes White's autobiographical trilogy—and falls somewhere in quality between the pellucid excellence of A Boy's Own Story (1983) and the mannered redundancy of its sequel, The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988). Here, the story of a generation—the one that originated the gay liberation movement in the late '60s, then began dying out a few years later with the AIDS pandemic—is compressed into the remembered experiences of its narrator, a bereaved lover mourning the deaths and looking backward over 30 years' worth of sexual adventuring and slow progress toward maturity and success as a writer. White gives a graphic picture of bohemian Paris in '68, and elsewhere offers unusual perspectives on familiar locales (cruising at the Colosseum in Rome, observing 'Fire Island as an exact analogue of medieval Japan'). The novel's signal weakness is the sameness of the many, many men who wander in and out of the narrator's life (his recently deceased lover Brice is scarcely a character at all; on the other hand, Jamie, a sybaritic NYC '`blueblood,' exhibits a cockeyed charisma that fully justifies the narrator's exasperated fascination with him). White writes plaintively about the disappointments of aging and losing one's sexual allure, and convincingly connects the decline of phallic power with the fear of literary senescence. If he's a bit smug about the mores and pleasures of being a gym rat, he writes vividly, and always amusingly, about the mechanics and etiquette of 'tricking.' White's unmatched ability to communicate the tension between asserting one's right to be 'different' and yearning to beaccepted as 'normal" is brilliantly displayed again. Nothing human is alien to him, and none of his alienated souls is anything less than achingly human.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679754763
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage International
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 413
  • Sales rank: 626,977
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Edmund White was born in Cincinnati in 1940. He has taught literature and creative writing at Yale, Johns Hopkins, New York University and Columbia, was a full professor of English at Brown and served as executive director of the New York Institute for the Humanities. In 1983 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Award for Literature from the National Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1993 he was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres. For his last book, Genet: A Biography (1993), he was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Literary Award. His other books include Forgetting Elena, Nocturnes for the King of Naples, States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, A Boy's Own Story, Caracole and The Beautiful Room Is Empty. He lives in Paris.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

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(3)

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Knixx

    Ok lets get started tyen

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2004

    Profound Recollections...

    This tome was first released in the late 90's, but it's aged very well thanks to White's considerable skill as a wordsmith. Like it (the book) or not, you've got to give White his due as a master of sentence construction. His characters (Leonard, in particular) seem like guys we met somewhere just yesterday, so they seem like old friends. Despite the too often use of French language, the story is conveyed in an intelligent, cerebral manner and goes down easy with an open mind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2003

    I had hoped for better...

    I was disappointed that this ersatz autobiography, reeking of self-indulgent gay foppery, has no plot. None. It moves industriously from sketch after sketch of superficially drawn minor characters basking in the diminutive light of their own egos, until by Chapter Eleven, the reader cries, ¿Enough already! End this thing!¿ And, as if the author had foreseen his reader¿s frustration, Chapter Eleven does, in fact, end it. Edmund White tries for profundity¿ or if not profundity, then sophistication. Or if not sophistication, then at least the world-weariness of an urbane gentleman who has seen it all, done it all. What he achieves after 413 pages is a revelation of himself as¿ well¿ old. It¿s sad. His 'A Boy¿s Own Story' is justifiably considered a classic, and his mastery of English, his gorgeous sentences freighted with fresh, remarkable imagery and turns of phrase worthy of Henry James or Marcel Proust are fascinating reading all by themselves. It¿s too bad all that magnificent prose doesn¿t add up to something of substance.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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