In the Absence of Men

In the Absence of Men


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It is the summer of 1916 and, with German Zeppelins on the skyline, the men of Paris are off at war. For Vincent, the 16-year-old son of a prestigious family, the tranquility of the city sits at odds with the salons and soirees he attends. But, after an electrifying encounter with the enigmatic writer, Marcel P, draws Vincent’s desires out into the light, his ever-riskier liaisons with a young soldier begin to shape Vincent’s future.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784876364
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 377,620
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Philippe Besson is the author of Lie WithMe, which was the Advocate's Best Gay Novel of 2019, a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, and one of O, the Oprah Magazine's "Best LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2019." Frank Wynne won the International Dublin Literary Award jointly with Michel Houellebecq for Atomised. His translation of Frédéric Beigbeder's Windows on the World won the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and he is a two-time winner of both the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize for translation from the French and the Premio Valle Inclán for Spanish Translation. 

Read an Excerpt

I am sixteen. I am as old as the century.
I know there is a war, that soldiers are dying on the
front lines of this war, that civilians are dying in
the towns and the countryside of France and elsewhere,
that the war – more than the destruction, more
than the mud, more than the whistle of bullets as they
tear through a man’s chest, more than the shattered
faces of the women who wait, hoping sometimes against
hope, for a letter which never arrives, for a leave of
absence perpetually postponed, more than the game
of politics that is played by nations – is the sum of the
simple, cruel, sad and anonymous deaths of soldiers, of
civilians whose names we will one day read on the pediments
of monuments, to the sound of a funeral march.
And yet, I know nothing of war. I live in Paris. I am
a pupil at the lycée Louis-le-Grand.
I am sixteen. People say: what a beautiful child! Look at him, he
really is magnificent. Black hair. Green, almond-
shaped eyes. A girl’s complexion. I say: they are mistaken, I am
no longer a child. 
I am sixteen and I know perfectly well that to be sixteen
is a triumph. More so, perhaps, in time of war.
Because I have escaped the war, while those just a little
older, those who mocked me, have not escaped, and so
are absent. And so I am almost alone, wreathed in the
palpable triumph of my sixteen years, surrounded by
women who take care of me, with their excessive, frightened
I love this new century, which carries with it my
hopes, this century which will be mine.
Mother said time and again, before the summer of
1914, that to be born with the century was a sign from
God, a benediction, a promise of happiness. She was
proud of this miraculous coincidence: my birth, and
that of the twentieth century.
For his part, father spoke of renewal. I think he used
the adjective: modern. I was unaware that he knew the
meaning of the word. He is a man of the old century, of
the past. He is old. My parents are old. My conception
was not planned. My coming was an accident. They
transformed this curse – for curse it must have seemed
at first glance – into an important, long-awaited
event. I am thankful for that accident, that curse.

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