With a title like The Immoralist
, you might expect something along the lines of Sade. You’d be way off base. Instead, this novel is more subtle, more like Death in Venice
, complete with its themes of a septic environment, tuberculosis, and, perhaps, pederasty. The protagonist, Michel, is captivated by healthy and strikingly handsome boys and young men, and of those young men, he is attracted to those who are most rugged and handsome, with their own secrets, or the most dissolute.
At best, or at worst, this is the story of a turn-of-the-century bisexual, not a gay man. To his credit, he nurses and cares for an ailing wife in the same manner that she tended him during his own bout with dangerous illness, and then slinks off to join the company he prefers at night while she rests. In many ways, Michel is rather the stereotype of the predatory gay man who leads a secretive existence—an existence that one is decreasingly likely to encounter other than in the most dangerous of environments, or among those men whose circumstances compel them to a double-life hidden from family, or among the religious. Michel never acknowledges sex with males (men or boys—the only admitted encounters are with his wife and the female lover of a boy who he admired earlier, and that, while the boy was present). It is, however, suggested by the female lover that he does prefer boys.
Rather slow-moving (like the wearisome travels of Michel and his wife when one or the other were ailing); the sex, other than that mentioned above, is, at most, implicit. The story is told in the first-person, as a story within a frame. Well worth the brief time it takes to read.