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Sandel by Angus Stewart

Sandel (1968)

by Angus Stewart

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David Rogers is a nineteen year old undergraduate at Oxford reading English; he is also an accomplished musician. From an obviously moneyed family, as a seventeen year old public school boy he fell in love from afar with the much younger Peter, but never acted on his feelings. One day at Oxford he encounters a couple of young choirboys from St Cecilia’s choir school returning from a service. One of the boys is thirteen year old Tony Sandel, and by chance they soon meet again, they have a lot in common and so begins a remarkable love affair.

Tony, orphaned and cared for by his no-nonsense aunt, is no ordinary boy; he is intelligent, mature for his years and an extraordinary singer with an outstanding musical mind, and he is slender and beautiful. But more than that the young character that Angus Stewart creates is all boy, he is so well observed that we have a vivid picture of a lively, occasionally mischievous, sometimes overwhelmed by his own feelings, but always endearing youngster, his boyish mannerisms perfectly captured. He knows what he wants, be it the clothes he wears, or concerning his relationship with David.

Of course the immediate question that comes to mind is the propriety of the relationship between the two boys, and Stewart address this mainly through David’s conversations with Bruce Lang, a fellow Oxford student and childhood friend since the age of nine and who was with David at Public school. The rather cynical Bruce is taking instruction from the Jesuits and so conveniently provides a sounding board and counter argument concerning David’s friendship with Tony.

Tony too is at first confused about his relationship with David, especially in view of some of the sermons he has heard. He discusses these with David, so we feel he is under no illusion as to what their relationship involves. However at one point Tony asks David what loves is, and David is unable to provide a convincing answer. This seemed rather odd for someone with David’s education particularly with his knowledge Latin and particularly Greek. Surely David would know that in Greek there are several words which translated as love, but each of which has a very specific meaning. But that is a minor point overall. What does come over very convincingly is that the two love each other dearly, but it is Tony who is in the driving seat, and the more so as the relationship develops.

The realities of a relationship involving an adolescent boy and a near adult are not ignored. Tony does irritate David at times, even angering him; but such is David’s love for Tony that he makes every effort to control these feelings, fully aware of the potential problem.

Stewart writes intelligently, and gives his reader no quarter; he expects his reader to be able to grasp what is happening without unnecessary explanation. But that is not to say that the narrative is scant, far from it, his descriptions are full, well observed and unambiguous, and his characters are well defined and often eccentric individuals.

Whatever one might feel about the relationship of the two boys, there is no doubting that Sandel is a truly beautiful, tender love story. It is very well written, at times very funny, never sentimental, and with a very satisfying conclusion which avoids any clichés. Now difficult to obtain it is well worth seeking out. ( )
1 vote Bembo | Oct 2, 2007 |
David Rogers, a 19-year-old student, falls in love with 13-year-old Antony Sandel and they have sexual relationship. ( )
  TonySandel | Sep 16, 2007 |
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Set in the 1960s in an Oxford college, when being gay was still an offence punishable by imprisonment, 'Sandel' tells the story of a love affair between an undergraduate (David Rogers), and a cathedral choir boy (Antony Sandel).

Tony - beautiful, provocative, mischievous, sensitive and sometimes overwhelmed by the intensity of his own feelings - bewitches Rogers. Both are talented musicians, and Sandel's astonishing voice, which Rogers explores as his accompanist at the transient moment of glory which precedes it breaking, is soon central to the relationship.

Sensual, profound, often funny and never sentimental, Stewart provides a definitive analysis of same-sex love in the context of a relationship that puts sex in its place and reveals love as the one agent of the human condition that can set us free.

The setting of the novel in an Oxford college (actually Christ Church, which the author attended) and the well-observed description of life in an English choir-school - short trousers, boats on the river, afternoon tea and cricket before Evensong - along with the stylistic quality of the writing, places 'Sandel' in a tradition made famous by Evelyn Waugh ('Decline and Fall' and 'Brideshead Revisited'). There are echoes too of 'Maurice', the novel by E M Forster published after his death in 1970.

On both sides of the Atlantic, 'Sandel' became formative reading for a generation of boys growing up in the 1970s who knew their feelings fell outside the heterosexual male stereotype, and it remains a gay cult novel today, with prices on Amazon reaching thousands of dollars a copy.

But its fundamental message holds good for all people in all eras whatever their sexual persuasion, and is delivered with great subtlety and skill by a master craftsman
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