The Inner Circle – T.C. Boyle

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The Inner Circle is the autobiography of the fictional John Milk, a sex researcher, working alongside the famous Alfred Kinsey. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have recently had problems with a few fictional biographies (Summertime and An Equal Stillness) and so had decided to avoid them for a while, but luckily I had already started The Inner Circle and so didn’t miss out on this fascinating book.

Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at Indiana University in the 1930s, when he embarked on a study of human sexuality. His controversial research brought many taboo subjects out into the open for the first time and generated a huge amount of public interest.

Publishers are forever using the cliche “eagerly anticipated” to describe ordinary and humdrum volumes of which no one is even remotely aware, but I can say, without doubt, that Sexual Behaviour of the Human Female was the most feverishly awaited and explosive title of the century.

I think the key difference between this book and the two mentioned above, is that this is an autobiography and so all the emotion is there. We are not passively hearing the facts about their lives, but are living inside their head, feeling their emotions.

This book does contain a lot of sex, but it is all scientific, and not in any way titillating. I found the attitudes to sex in the 1930s fascinating. The differences were striking and I don’t think I’d realised how much things had changed until I read this book. Kinsey’s lectures on the basic biology of sex are something we are all used to having at a young age, but in order to get into his class, the University students had to be married, or at least engaged. These young adults were so in the dark about things that they formed phantom engagements just to be able to listen to him and learn the basic facts about the birds and the bees.

It did slightly annoy that I didn’t know how much of this book actually happened, but after finishing, I realise that it didn’t matter – I enjoyed reading the book and learnt a lot about life during the 1930s and 40s.

Recommended to anyone interested in the development of early sexual research.



This is the first T.C. Boyle book that I have read and I was very impressed.

Have you read anything by T.C. Boyle?

Which Boyle book should I read next?

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  1. kimbofo says:

    “Recommended to anyone interested in the development of early sexual research.”

    I’m sorry, but that bit made me laugh out loud. I can’t say that books about early sexual research are high on my list of priorities!

    I absolutely loved and adored TC Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain when I read it back in 2004. My review is here: I think you’d probably like it, as it’s got some great characters, a cracking plot and plenty of important messages to mull over.

    1. Jackie says:

      kimbofo, I guess it is quite funny! I must say that it is not a topic I’d read about before, or felt I needed to to know about. I recommend this book to everyone, but am aware that some people don’t like reading about sex – hence why I wrote that you’d need to be interested in it.

      I think that TC Boyle will become one of my authors to watch out for, so I’ll try to find a copy of Tortilla Curtain soon – it sounds great!

  2. The period and the research do sound interesting; anything I have previously read/seen about Kinsey has fascinated me.

    I have this on my shelves along with The Tortilla Curtain to read. I love TC Boyle and would definitely recommend reading Drop City.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I knew very little about Kinsey before reading this book, but he sounds like a really interesting man and I’d love to know more now.

      Thanks for the Drop City recommendation – I’ll try to get hold of a copy.

  3. Sandy says:

    I saw a movie about the Kinsey thing, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. I also had a college professor that was strangely obsessed with the whole thing as well, and had to endure his ramblings about it, as well as visuals. I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve heard enough about it that I have so little interest. I’ve not read anything by Boyle either, but I would like to. Again, as I say to myself weekly, I don’t know what I AM reading, because I’m not hitting any of the authors that I’d like to!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’ve just looked up the movie and it is simply called ‘Kinsey’ I’d be interested to watch it to see how it compares to the book. Perhaps once I’ve seen it I will have had enough too?!

      1. Sandy says:

        I love Neeson as an actor, but he was the furthest thing from sexy in this movie. (Same with Linney, who really can be sexy in some movies). It was a bit of a turnoff for me!

  4. Cindy says:

    Looks interesting!

    1. Jackie says:

      Cindy, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I hope you like it here.

  5. Sounds interesting…I’ve always been fascinated with Kinsey’s research.

    1. Jackie says:

      A Bookshelf Monstrosity, He is a fascinating character!

  6. Jenny says:

    When I first saw this review, I thought, That’s ridiculous! Making up a whole person in the Kinsey research! I have no idea why I had that reaction – there’s dozens of books like that, I believe they are called historical fiction. :P But in fact I am totally interested in the development of early sexual research, and I bet reading this would be a good jumping-off point to learn more about Kinsey’s work.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I am very sceptical about fictional biographies, but this one did seem to work. I guess you’re right about historical fiction, but most of the time the central character isn’t invented? I hope that you enjoy this book anyway.

  7. Simon S says:

    I love the 1930’s and so anything to do with anything around that era and the lives of people and society then so this sounds fascinating. I also think Kinsey is very interesting so two reasons to read it. Really interesting and have never considered reading T.C Boyle before and now I may in 2010.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I think that you’d enoy this book and I’m sure we’ll find that this is an author we need to start reading more of. I hope you manage to find a copy.

  8. JoAnn says:

    I became a T.C. Boyle fan last year after reading The Tortilla Curtain – it was one of my favorites of the year. This year I’ve been reading his stories, but plan to get to another of his novels soon.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I hope I can find The Tortilla Curtain soon – I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it.

  9. This sounds fascinating. I think that the way that sex is viewed is so integral to a period of time and society. Great review Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Insights, You’re right. I think this book shows how different things were for women in the 30s. I can’t imagine having to live like that – I am so grateful that I live now and not then.

  10. diane says:

    I picked this one up for 50 cents at a book sale recently, but as of yet, I have not been motivated to read it. I do have enjoyed several TC Boyle books: Tortilla Curtain, being a favorite.

    Thanks for the great review Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll try to get hold of The Tortilla Curtain soon.

  11. Jenners says:

    Gosh…I read T.C. Boyle book years ago but for the life of me can’t remember what it was … something about cereal I think. I guess I didn’t care for it as I can’t remember it and never read another one!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I have no idea which one is about cereal – I’ll let you know if I discover it!

  12. Colleen says:

    I can also recommend Tortilla Curtain – it is the only other T.C. Boyle book I have read to date but it really stayed with me. I do intend to read more T.C. Boyle so thanks for this recommendation!

    1. Jackie says:

      Colleen, It sounds as though I need to get hold of that book, as everyone seems to love it – thank you for letting me know how good it is.

  13. The Reader says:

    how is the quality of the writing?

    the reader
    I’m a Bookworm

    1. Jackie says:

      The Reader, The writing is of a good quality. It is an autobigraphy, so there isn’t that much description/atmosphere, but the facts are fascinating enough to make up for it.

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