Friday, 22 May 2009
The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle
This novel is based on the real character of Professor Alfred C Kinsey – a name you may recognize from The Kinsey Reports or the movie they made about him in the 2004 I think, entitled Kinsey. Alfred Kinsey was an American biologist and professor of Zoology, who founded the Institute for Sex Research and whose life, professional and personal, was shrouded in controversy and an intense combination of public disapproval and exaltation.
The Inner Circle is T.C. Boyle’s interesting fictional take on what life was like for Kinsey’s “inner circle”; the scholars that helped him and worked closely with him on his ‘project’, and their wives. Kinsey was consumed with a fiery desire for knowledge, and particularly the knowledge of human sexual behavior, which at this time in the 1940s was still considered taboo and about which there was little scientific information. Kinsey wanted to compile statistics based on research tabulated from interviews done with thousands and thousands of men and women from all walks of life. The character of ‘Prok’ – Professor Kinsey – is deeply explored by Boyle, through the first person narrative of John Milk, a fictional scholar that Kinsey takes on to help him conduct his research.
What eventuates is Prok taking over Milk’s life – or rather, ‘the project’ taking over his life, and the life of his wife, and all the other academic helpers Prok eventually takes on. Sympathizing with the book’s protagonist, you can’t help but have deep and mixed feelings for Prok. On the one hand, he is a strong and dangerous force in people’s lives – but on the other, as a reader from this generation; you understand why Prok’s work was SO important, and how it revolutionized people’s attitudes towards human sexual behavior.
T.C. Boyle’s well-constructed character interplay is a delight to read – you really get to know everyone in the book and feel for them and their bizarre situation. Although the work they did and the texts they produced were incredibly important – the overly-clinical view of sex and the sacrificial attitude towards the ‘project’ takes its toll on the lives of everyone involved. The ‘inner circle’ suffer for their work; physically, emotionally and mentally. Boyle has done a fabulous job of bringing this character to life through his fiction – plus there’s loads of sex! The psychological and emotional journey taken by Milk is expressed honestly and eloquently; I am hugely impressed by Boyle’s ability with characterization and flow.