Desert Isle Keeper
Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material is quite possibly the best romantic comedy I’ve ever read. Almost every page produced a smile, a grin, a snort or a full-out belly-laugh – and I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a book that produced full on giggling of the sort that made my family members give me funny looks.
I love a good fake-relationship story and this is a VERY good one. The premise is nothing new; our PoV character Lucien – Luc – O’Donnell has appeared in one-too-many embarrassing photos in the press and is told to clean up his image or be fired from his job. But Alexis Hall turns this commonly used plotline into something special; yes, it’s frequently hilarious, but it’s also charming, touching, awkward, sharply observant and refreshingly self-deprecating, as is evident right from the start in the way the author pokes fun at the premise itself by having Luc working for a charity dedicated to the preservation of the dung-beetle, whose name, in acronym form, is CRAPP.
Turns out, the one thing worse than having a famous father who blew up his career like a champagne supernova is having a famous father who’s making a fucking comeback.
Twenty-eight year-old Luc is the son of a famous rock-star couple whose dad abandoned both Luc and his mother when Luc was just three years old. For much of his life he’s been constantly compared to his reckless, self- destructive absentee father in the media, the slightest infraction or cock-up on his part inevitably leading to smug ‘like father, like son’ pronouncements, but he learned to live with it (mostly). Five years before the book opens, Luc’s long-term boyfriend sold his story to the tabloids for fifty grand, which sent him into a downward spiral that, for a while, served only to reinforce people’s worst assumptions about him. Now, he’s a mass of insecurities, a cagey, grumpy, paranoid mess with serious trust and self-esteem issues who has made an art form out of pushing people away.
Because somewhere along the line, I’d turned getting ahead of the story into a lifestyle.
With his father making a comeback as a judge on a reality TV show, Luc is once again fair game as far as the paparazzi is concerned. So when a perfectly innocuous photo of him appears in a tabloid complete with sensationalist byline, Luc’s stuffy boss at the Coleoptera Research and Protection Project (CRAPP), worried about losing donors over his reported antics, gives him an ultimatum. Repair his reputation or he’s out of a job. Luc has no idea how to do this – until a colleague (with the wonderfully unlikely name of Alex Twaddle – seriously, many of the names in this book are Dickensian in their ridiculousness!) suggests he should get himself an appropriate boyfriend to be seen around with and then take to the upcoming CRAPP fundraiser.
Which is how come Luc ends up agreeing to go on a not-date with the terribly proper, uptight barrister Oliver Blackwood. They have absolutely nothing in common other than the need to have a plus-one to take to an upcoming event – Luc’s fundraiser and Oliver’s parents’ anniversary – so they agree to be publicity-friendly fake-boyfriends for a few weeks, then have a fake-break-up and pretend it never happened. No problem.
Well, it should be no problem, but as their fake-relationship progresses and Luc starts to get to know Oliver, he begins to realise that behind the serious, fussy, perfectly-presented exterior is a man he could come to like very much – for real.
Luc is pretty self-absorbed, but given his circumstances, it’s not too surprising; he’s famous-by-association and has lived under some sort of spotlight for much of his life. When other kids were getting drunk or stoned at parties nobody batted an eyelid, but when he did it, it made its way into the papers with copy about his being a ‘wild child’ or ‘his father’s son’. He’s short-tempered, sharp-tongued and has a talent for saying the wrong thing, but he’s endearing and vulnerable, despite his outward prickliness, and I loved watching him gradually coming to accept that he was worth loving and deserved to have good things in his life.
And Oliver, while seemingly Luc’s total opposite is absolutely perfect for him. He’s a bit stuffy – although as Luc discovers, has a very dry sense of humour – and is sometimes a bit preachy, but it all comes from a good place and there’s something about him that is completely and utterly charming. He’s had lots of boyfriends, but no relationship has lasted, something Oliver himself puts down to his being boring. To start with, Luc is inclined to agree, but soon starts to wonder. Oliver may be a bit uptight, but he’s also kind, considerate and intuitive (plus, he’s seriously hot) – so how come he’s never had a relationship last more than six months?
Luc and Oliver’s romance is beautifully written and well-paced, and is full of snark, tenderness and genuine affection. From their very first fake-date, the chemistry between them sings, and their gradual progression from fake boyfriends to ‘um… this doesn’t feel fake any more’ is extremely well done. The story is related entirely from Luc’s PoV, but Mr. Hall does a great job of bringing Oliver to life through his eyes, and showing the reader things that Luc sees but doesn’t SEE. Luc is so caught up in his own problems that he fails to see that Oliver is just as screwed up and insecure in many ways as he is – and I appreciated that part of Luc’s journey towards being a little less hard on himself was in learning to recognise when others – notably Oliver – were struggling, too.
He’d helped me see that my life was better than I’d thought it was… that I was better than I’d thought I was.
The sub-plot concerning Luc’s conflicting emotions about his father – who has discovered he has cancer – is really well done, and Luc’s circle of friends – their WhatsApp group variously titled “Queer Comes the Sun”, “One Gay More” and “All About That Ace” – are a bonkers, quirky bunch who clearly adore each other and wouldn’t be out of place in a Richard Curtis film.
Luc and Oliver light up the pages whenever they’re together and while Mr. Hall’s trademark humour and love of pop-culture are very much present throughout, there’s a more serious, emotional side to the book, too, a story about self-worth and acceptance and the need to be true to oneself. Romantic, funny, silly, messy, tropey and completely wonderful, Boyfriend Material is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I was captivated from start to finish and I’m sure you will be, too.