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