I read Gaywyck, by Vincent Virga, because of a mention in an article where it was described as the granddaddy of gay gothic fiction. First published in 1980, it has been out of print, but is now available both in paperback and Kindle versions. I was curious enough to order it, and once begun, found the book hard to down. The writing is dated, but lush and beautiful. I love tales told in the first person and the author manages it masterfully.
Robert Whyte is our guide through the troubled world of Gaywyck, a turn of the century mansion on Long Island, the ancestral home of Donough Gaylord, who hires seventeen-year-old Robert as the librarian for his vast literary holdings. Robert is a brilliant, sensitive youth, with an unforgiving father and a mother confined to a home for the mentally ill. When he refuses to attend college, his father tells him he must leave his house. Shortly after, a letter arrives offering him the position of librarian at Gaywyck.
At the huge mansion overlooking the sea, Robert is enthralled by the luxury, the art, the books, and the presence of melancholy but kindly Donough. His father, the elder Gaylord, and Donough’s twin brother, Cormack, were killed in a fire thirteen years before. Now Donough runs the family business, but it seems the tragedy robbed him of the ability to enjoy his life or open himself to love. When he meets the beautiful and impressionable young Robert, everything changes.
Gaywyck is a coming of age story as Robert matures from a naïve student who sees the world through a rose-colored romantic haze into a man who comes to understand the contradictions of the human heart. It is a romance as the friendship between Robert and Donough moves through infatuation into an adult relationship. It is a mystery as Robert slowly unravels the multi layered history of Donough’s early life at Gaywyck, uncovering horror after horror. The twists and turns of the plot are more complex than the labyrinth that imprisoned the Minotaur, and although the novel proceeds in a leisurely fashion, providing the reader with an education on art, literature and philosophy along the way, it picks up speed rapidly as the conclusion draws near.
This book is populated by many extremely odd people, most of whom I would not care to encounter, but the two protagonists, the trusting Robert and the moody Donough, both won my heart. Robert’s initial naiveté was endearing and as he slowly realized the extent of the evil he had stepped into, his struggle to maintain his integrity while integrating the truth of Donough’s past was very real. Donough slowly comes out of his self-imposed isolation so he can engage with Robert and face his past, forsaking the safety that his wealth and position provide for him.
The novel is overwrought, yes, as are the characters, but the writing is excellent and the journey worth the trip.