History of a Pleasure Seeker Review
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Whether traveling to far-away lands or a time long past, books open their readers up to new experiences and new possibilities. The same is true of author Richard Mason’s History of a Pleasure Seeker, which allows readers to journey back more than a century to the streets and canals of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, though, the journey’s young tour guide is more interested in working his way to the top than showing off the sights and sounds of the city.

Growing up in the Dutch town of Leiden, Piet Barol was never wealthy, but his French mother taught him to appreciate the finer things in life. His training comes in handy when, in 1907, he travels to Amsterdam to pursue a job as the tutor of the reclusive son of a prosperous hotelier.

A handsome young man in his mid-twenties, Piet knows how to use his looks and charms to his advantage—and he deftly uses them on Jacobina Vermeulen-Sickerts, the lonely lady of the house, inspiring enough lust in her to get himself hired into one of the most opulent homes in the city. While living and working in the Vermeulen-Sickerts’ home, Piet continues to use his charms to win himself favor with other household staff—and with his young student’s older sisters. And he uses that favor to pursue his dreams of a new life on another continent.

  
 
Predominantly set inside the posh home of the pampered Vermeulen-Sickerts, History of a Pleasure Seeker offers a fascinating look inside the lives of Amsterdam’s rich and fabulous around the turn of the twentieth century. Their luxurious surroundings, the pricey decor, and their grand parties are absolutely magnificent to imagine—and they’re all described in rich detail.

Even more fascinating than the setting, however, are the Vermeulen-Sickerts themselves. From extremely devout Maarten, who’s taken a secret vow of celibacy (much to the dismay of his younger wife), to headstrong Louisa, who dreams of starting her own business (despite the shame it would cause her family)—and especially young Egbert, who uses his musical talent to try to calm the spirits that haunt him—each one has an intriguing personality, with plenty of secrets and dreams to be explored.

Unfortunately, though, the story doesn’t remain with the Vermeulen-Sickerts. Of course, it spends much of its time with Piet, which is often frustrating, since he’s such a conniving chameleon, carefully plotting the exact moves needed to get exactly what he wants from those around him. As such, he really has no real personality of his own—outside his selfish ambitions and his growing opportunism.

Where Piet is concerned, the story is one of scheming and sex. No one, it seems, is immune to his charms, and most would happily fall into bed with him at just a passing glance. The men are especially taken by him—in fact, it seems that nearly every male character has homosexual tendencies (or could be easily swayed, if the situation arose). And Piet’s constant exploitation of his apparent power over everyone within eyesight gives the story a shallow—and rather unpleasant—undertone.

For that reason, when Piet leaves the Vermeulen-Sickerts and their home toward the end of the novel and boards a ship for a new start, the story loses its appeal. The characters no longer hold the same interest, and the rest is just a superficial adventure of lust and pursuit for a number of one-note characters. And, unfortunately, despite the story’s rich set-up, it simply falls flat in the end.

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