Desert Isle Keeper
How to Bang a Billionaire
This review of How to Bang a Billionaire was difficult to write in terms of approach. Has Alexis Hall written an enjoyable, entertaining novel? Of course, he has. Has he written a pastiche of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey? I will leave that for you to decide when you have read this, the first in his Arden St. Ives trilogy. I think my response is clear in my review.
Do I approach this as a Romantic Comedy with elements of BDSM? There are certainly arguments for this; or do I approach it as Tragi-comedy where, as we often see in this author’s works, a strong but broken man is saved by a street smart, witty, golden hearted nerd?
However you approach this novel, I can almost guarantee you will want to read the next two.
It opens with an italicised Prologue, so intriguing, so beautiful and perfectly worded that Chapter One is a jolt of reality I actually resented. Believe me, if the novel had continued in style of the Prologue, Alexis Hall would probably sell fewer copies initially, but would have made the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize! It’s a short BDSM scene in which the sub being beaten loves the Dom and bears the pain for him. However, the Dom just cannot allow himself to give into his sadistic needs any longer. There are also hints of a much deeper story within the Prologue.
Back to the present, and we are introduced to Arden St. Ives, an adorable, rather lazy and de-motivated English Student at Oxford. He is currently phoning the alumni of his college to beg for money for St. Sebastian’s College. He isn’t having any luck until he calls Caspian Hart, a renowned, reclusive billionaire. Caspian is amused and intrigued by the bumbling, but refreshingly honest Arden. The phone call is a lovely way to bring them together and Arden remembers to invite Caspian to the fundraising dinner, and unexpectedly, on the parts of both men, he accepts.
Their relationship begins with a lusciously described blowjob on the balcony overlooking the grand hall, where below them the fundraiser is winding down. The verbal and sexual sparring is, of course, thoroughly entertaining and the author creates an intangible something between them that causes the characters to keep coming back to each other and ensures readers will stay with this couple, whatever happens.
We also have secondary characters of note; Arden’s straight, best male friend, Nik and Caspian’s sister, Ellery, who is a very complex and interesting character. Although she has had the seemingly lavish and expensive upbringing Caspian has, she is a rebellious, suicidal, self-harming, drug-taking thrill seeker, and yet is very likeable. Ellery adds to the intense thread of sadness woven through this novel.
Caspian’s office is beautiful, as are all of his male secretaries and assistants who resemble Calvin Klein models, especially Caspian’s PA, Bellerose. We even have Arden tripping over and making a fool of himself in front of businessmen in a meeting with Caspian. Sound familiar? Yes, there is a beautiful apartment. Plus, a negotiated contract, which Alexis Hall manages to make very funny while also revealing how boring the life of a ‘kept man’ actually is. Towards the end, Arden receives an invitation to the masked ball that’s being held to mark Ellery’s birthday. There is no misunderstanding of references to the Fifty Shades trilogy – they are meant to be seen.
However this is the queering of Fifty Shades of Grey, where people react in a complex and believable way to complex situations – and although I suspect there will be BDSM power exchange to come, there is none in this first book with the exception of the Prologue. Arden’s inner voice and his dialogue are humorous and slightly innocent. Alexis Hall restrained himself from giving Arden an inner god in a tutu.
I would call How to Bang a Billionaire, a pastiche rather than a parody because there is no spitefulness or malice in his writing. Indeed, I think Alexis Hall has emphasised the sadness and complexity of his dominant, Caspian Hart, rather than merely queering the misogynistic attitudes and abusive sex of the original.
This is his first book to be published under the Forever Yours imprint, and his new editor has done a marvellous job of retaining the author’s distinctive style, although I felt it was lacking some of the gorgeous evocative ramblings I love so much in an Alexis Hall book.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to give How to Bang a Billionaire (who chose that title? lol) a rating in the ‘A’ range. It was A++ after that Prologue but I’ve settled on an A- .
I was unsure about the number of intertextual and cultural references. Intertextuality, allusion et al are part of writing and I like when I recognise them and they enhance a description or humour. But occasionally, they can become slightly elitist or isolate readers who do not recognise them. I noted down eighteen such references when I realised they were starting to jump out at me. Many, such as the reference to Alien, or to wonderfully romantic scenes in old, black and white movies and even American classics like MacGyver and Ferris Bueller, are pretty international and well-known. The ‘Balrog’, I am Legend, Ulysses, Heyer’s The Corinthian, du Maurier’s Mrs Danvers, G.K. Chesterton, or allusions to Narnian stone lions are perhaps too obscure for a romantic trilogy about a billionaire.
Maybe I am being just too picky, but what a delight to be picky about intertextuality. How to Bang a Billionaire is an entertaining read from beginning to the HFN ending, with the Prologue and the end scenes in Scotland pure undiluted Alexis Hall. Yes, of course, I shall be buying books two and three when they are released. Enjoy.