I would also recommend anyone who hasn’t re-(re-)read Boyfriend Material since it came out to re-read it before plunging into this novel. I went back and forth on whether I should–full disclosure, I did not end up doing so–but having now done so, I think I’d have been a bit kinder in my assessment of this book, and Luc/Oliver in general.
This is all sounding very negative! Let me be clear: I think that Hall has done it again, created two vivid, lovely, queer as rainbows (but not only rainbows, of course) protagonists whose travails I am deeply invested in. This book, like the prior, is longer than your average rom-com, but the pages seem to just fly by. Perhaps in a first for books I’ve read by Hall, we can’t really shelve this in the rom-com category despite its clear love for the genre (the first book was a paean to, amongst others, Pride and Prejudice by way of Bridget Jones’ Diary, while this novel is a open homage to Four Weddings and a Funeral, with the same framing narrative). And that’s because the usual arc–boy [has reason can’t be with] boy, boy gets to know boy, boy loves boy–is done. We already ended with a ‘happy for now.’
Now that we’ve dispensed with the entire spoiler free bit, we’ll move into the Boyfriend Material spoilers:
The thing is, even in the original novel there was a significant amount of time dedicated to exploring Luc and (to a lesser extent) Oliver’s neuroses and issues. When we pick up three years later, we’re almost primed to think that everything is fine and dandy (heh) because usually the epilogue in a romance novel is nothing but “everyone is happy, and probably there’s a kid.”
But that’s not where we’re at with these two characters, and it was a bit of a dash of reality to remember that both of them were and are working through significant issues. Having just re-read The Hating Game I’m struck by the similarity of Joshua and Oliver–both of them are ‘disappointments’ to their stuck up fathers with a Perfect Brother who they find too nice/good to really hate and both novels end with their not-yet-significant-other standing up for them and telling their father to eff off. But while THG has this as the only required moment to create a wholesale change in the entire tenor of a parent/child relationship that has been broken for decades, the London Calling universe makes it clear that Oliver and his father (and mother, to be fair) have a lot of work to do to fix years of neglect and sly homophobia. Luc’s relationship with his father, non-existent as it is, ends up trying to reassert itself and not and he gets his hopes up and not.
And then their relationship. They are the classic opposites attract relationship, but three years on there’s friction as they learn how to grow together. Somewhat of a throwaway story from BM (during the watch party of RuPaul, Oliver admits that he’s never felt very welcomed by or comfortable in the rainbows and freak flag LGBTQIA community) comes more to the fore–Luc needs a different sort of community than does Oliver. What does it mean when the places you and your partner go for validation are literally on opposite sides of the same spectrum?
This STILL sounds like I disliked this novel, and I cannot explain how much that isn’t the case. I think this book is a beautiful meditation on the current trend of “happy for now” endings–while some authors are brave enough to also have those, very few I think have the courage to then take a razor and flay open what such an ending actually means for a couple that we want so badly to make it.
Now, actual spoilers: [Perhaps the reason that this is (for now) a four star review is that watching Luc and Oliver snipe at each other and take each other for granted and then decide to get married to strengthen their relationship is just a bit too…raw for me to handle at the moment. Maybe if I knew what I was reading (or more importantly what I wasn’t) I would have been in the right headspace. As it were, we only get the resolution we’re looking for close to the end of the novel, very similarly to in BM. Once again we’re in a happy for now type ending, except we did that last time. Writing this out, I know it sounds like I just want a trite unrealistic ending that assures me that somewhere Luc and Oliver are happy and puttering around a garden in Surrey (is that a place where people retire to).
But you know what? I sort of do. Queer happiness is still in its infancy as a literary trope, and…I sort of want as much of it as I can get. I’m definitely going to re-visit this (perhaps after Father Material?????) and likely raise its rating as well once the next novel reassures me that this novel’s ending did actually mean happy for now.]