Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners gets full marks, no question. This odd little volume and all that makes it unique is immediately one of my all-time favorites. This story, which feels much more full than its 200 pages would suggest, follows Dr. Paul Thomas Haskins, a waspish Ivy League professor, and Jonathan, a student of his. Both these men are manipulative sociopaths, though whether that is in their nature or whether they are so deep in the closet that skeletons and old sweaters are suffocating them and giving them brain damage is not clear.
The characters choose not to see it in each other, and the narration is so successfully ironic that the audience could miss it too if they blink. This is hardly a love story, and the truth is, it’s hardly about Jonathan at all. This book could easily have detailed any of Paul’s many trysts, most likely with a scrappy cutie from the wrong side of the tracks, because that seems to be his type. This story is amazing in that it is a day in the life, rather than a snapshot of some defining, sweeping, meaningful romance. This affair may or may not be remembered, there is no real resolution, and everything will be the same tomorrow.
This book stands out in relative realness. The ongoing theme is that of the dreaded Closet. Our “hero” Paul is a 37 year old gay man who inspires no sympathy whatsoever, and never feels he deserves any. He is New England royalty from the oldest money and the highest position of privilege in the country. His life has been one of connection, nepotism, and leisure. As he says himself, his biggest problem is his receding hairline. Yet one can’t hate him because he is sentenced by his station to never truly be fulfilled in his own identity. The same syndrome is reflected in his lovers, though it manifests differently in each.
Socioeconomic stratification is touched upon. Even HIV is acknowledged. The setting and cultural context is very well researched and fleshed out, so the way the tight social web surrounding the school and the region seems to have all roads leading back to Paul feels natural.
Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners is a story of complex motivations in a complex context. It is also a story of smex. Good old fashioned hot stuff in most satisfactory quantities. The sex scenes are not explicit in the traditional pornier sense I usually gravitate toward, but they are objectively excellent. The faces are expressive enough to make one blush and the anatomy has tension, weight, and volume in all the right places.
The art is just as good throughout and the style is totally unlike any I’ve seen. The style also noticeably changes between the first and last panels, which is fun to watch. The art is minimal yet communicative with a high efficiency of line and very effective toning. From the settings to the outfits, the world building is tight and beautiful, and each character has their own unique features. Not every character is perfect either, something not often seen in yaoi. Of course they’re all attractive, but the basic bishounen mold is not at work here.
If you’re in the market for a terrifically crafted little human drama with truly interesting characters and lots of hot action, rooted in a relatable reality (hard to imagine someone NOT being in the market for that), this is a great score. I look forward to revisiting this treasure many times. I also have the feeling that the next time someone insists I give them a peek into the world of my special secret bookshelf, this is the one I will show them. This is a great yaoi, and also just a great book. I hope you enjoy it.