In any case, it is the brief tale of a fifteen year old boy - Orvil - on vacation from boarding school. He's young, weedy, dreamy, a little feminine - the sort of boy who suffers a lot in an all-male boarding school, and doesn't feel much more comfortable in the bosom of his family. His mother is dead, his father is a gruff, successful businessman who doesn't have much patience for Orvil's odd fancies, and his two brothers are hale and hearty near-adults who find Orvil mystifying.
You might guess that In Youth Is Pleasure is a sexual awakening - after all, Orvil is the right age for it and that seems to be what young people do on vacation in literary novels (Bonjour Tristesse is an obvious parallel - and, on the film side, so is Fat Girl) - and in a way, that's an accurate statement. But it's a sexual awakening without any sex. There's no flirting, no fumbling, no one object of his desires. What we get is Orvil's state of mind - so highly sensitized that the whole world seems to throb and ache around him. He's alone in a luxurious, bucolic setting and every gravel path, river canoe, and empty ballroom is a blank space he can populate with his odd imaginings. Like I said before, this is a book that is all atmosphere - there is no story to speak of, no real character development, I don't even think there's a message. It's pure slice of life - and, as such, it's absolutely brilliant. I don't think I've read another book that captures so pitch-perfectly the awful, exquisite feeling of being a teenager.
It's a lovely book, easy to read, and the period detail is remarkable as well - early 20th century upper-class England on holiday (as Orvil is driving away from his hated boarding school in his father's big black Daimler: "'I did not need so large a car for my Escape,' he thought, 'but Magic would never niggle, never send a Baby Austin.'") It's fairly quotable, and Orvil has an occasionally cruel, acid sense of humor which is the only thing that saves him from being a complete sissy (while dining at the hotel, he sits next to an old woman and observes to himself, "On one of her fingers she wore a half-hoop of very large diamonds; the sort of ring that harmonizes with white suites of bedroom furniture, wreaths of composition roses, inset panels of cane-work, silver shoe-horns and button-hooks, and Reynolds's angel faces on the oxidized lids of powder-pots.") On the other hand, without the forward momentum of a plot or a point, it takes a bit of patience to push through. I'd put it down, then have to remind myself to pick it back up. With that caveat, I recommend it highly.