William Coles
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Buy *Prelude* by William Coles online

William Coles
Soho Press
272 pages
May 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Set at Eton College in 1982, this novel is an homage to love, the power of lust, and the folly of jealousy. While the Falklands War rages, Kim, an impressionable and hormone-driven seventeen-year-old student, finds himself exploring the sensual boundaries of adolescent love, the hallowed halls of Eton to him perpetually awash in a silvery and transcendent light.

While Kim finds himself in an everlasting seething cauldron of pubescent boys and humming testosterone, all thoughts of the Falklands War are erased from his mind when he sees a beautiful young fantasy woman in her early 20s gliding out of the huge doors of the Eton School Hall.

Signing up for piano classes in Eton’s music department, Kim is surprised to discover that the woman, India James, will in fact be his new music teacher. While she effortlessly plays Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier along with the composer’s other preludes, Kim finds it almost impossible to control the new sensations of lust that overwhelm his psyche.

Although India is only a few years older, the two are a perfect fit, their instant attraction and easy intimacy propelling the summer days forward. All Kim can do is wonder at this gorgeous girl as she flicks through the thick volumes of music books, remaining spellbound and unable to move. Now most of his days are spent fanatically practicing, buoyed along by the indescribable love of his muse: “I was just a schoolboy, eager to take her hand, willing to learn.”

India is by turns charmed and overwhelmed by Kim’s unrelenting passion. But she also hides a dark secret: only Eton - and Kim - can provide the magic bullet and the possible escape from the blackness of her life in London. Meanwhile, Kim battles with the expectations of his military father, the murky hints of the possibilities of life with his girlfriend, Estelle, and the bullying from the other boys - particularly Frankie, his archrival for India’s affections.

Even when Coles’ prose borders on the pretentious and precious - “the trace of her tongue along his neck, her saliva growing cold on his skin” - the author deeply intuits Kim’s adolescent needs and desires. When a surprise revelation turns Kim into a wild, jealous monster, unwilling to accept or even understand the revelations that are posited from India’s past life, we see the boy become an emotional iceberg, riddled with insane resentment, his own shortsightedness eventually sowing the seeds of his self-destruction.

Despite its over-the-top style, Prelude is surprisingly passionate and excruciatingly compelling. The vast Windsor Castle with its blaze of summery light along with the gently flowing Thames provide a beautiful accent to the lovers’ sensual interludes. The irony of the play Othello echoes throughout, and the interplay of the musical preludes add an uneasy tension, the symbolism of the piano rather fortuitous as Kim and India’s hands mirror each other, their journey along the rocky path of passion eventfully signifying their doom.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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