‘The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble’ ran the headline in The New York Times in 2013, above an article about an Oxford professor of particle physics, Paul Frampton, who became the victim of ‘catfishing’. Surfing the internet, the physicist allowed himself to be tempted into committing a criminal offence by a busty photo model. At least, so he thought. Behind the model lurked a criminal cyber gang.
This news article inspired Leonard Pfeijffer to write Peachez, A Romance, which is completely fictional. All the motives, reflections and contemplations of the tragic hero, a professor of Classical Languages – the subject in which Pfeijffer gained his own doctorate – sprang from the rampant imagination of the author. As did the character with whom the professor falls torridly in love: Sarah Peachez. There is an erotic model who goes by that name on the internet, but she will not have the slightest notion of the role allotted to her by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer.
The romance between the academic and the girl originates in their email correspondence. His digital letters are erudite and sophisticated, saturated with the poetry of Horace and Catullus, analytical, instructive. Hers – that is, those of the people hiding behind her – are refreshing, playful, challenging and disarming. It is a courtship between lovers from two mutually exclusive worlds, yet they come together, as in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, or, for other reasons, Nabokov’s Lolita.
Although you know that the professor is becoming hopelessly entangled in the web, you continue to follow him and support his desire for real love. You long for him to find his impossible happiness. You want nothing more than to believe Sarah Peachez exists, that she really does write such enchanting missives, loves him, and is waiting for him somewhere.
Which is clearly not the case. From the very start you know that it will all end badly. In the opening pages the professor is in jail. But the surprising thing is this: in the eloquent report of what has happened to him he expresses no resentment or spite. On the contrary. He admits his guilt and accepts his fate, even if it means he will die behind bars. Because at least he really did live and love, once in his life.
Peachez, a romance is not just a tantalizing and tense thriller but a small philosophical novel about faith and love.