OUT!is the third, and final book in the Shamwell series by J.L. Merrow. I have read all so far and nearly included Played! and Caught! in my Top 10 for 2015. Set in the imaginary and rather idealised English village of Shamwell, this novel follows the rather shambolic romance between divorcee Mark and Shamwell resident Patrick.
Thirty-nine year old Mark Nugent has come to the realisation he is missing out where his relationship with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Florence, is concerned. She currently resides with her mother, and when Mark’s ex-wife, Ellen rings to say Florence has become too much of a handful for her and demands Mark take on some responsibility, he practically jumps at the chance. Without consulting said teenaged daughter, he gives up his high-powered job as a corporate tax accountant, buys a house in Shamwell village, and moves his daughter in with him.
The novel’s other main character is Patrick, a twenty-five year old out-and-proud charity worker with very strong principles. They meet in a village pub, via a local group for 25-45 year old men called The Spartans. Ostensibly, the Spartans are a social group raising money for charities, and like many of these type of organisations it is centred around alcohol and the consumption of it. Mark and Patrick’s ‘getting to know you’ scene involves a three-legged pub-crawl. During this ‘charitable’ event, Mark admits he is gay, and that he is not out to anyone, including his daughter, who now prefers to be called Fen. There is a similar confession from Patrick, who actually says during his conversation with Mark:
”You didn’t want to be gay?” “Didn’t wanna be with a bloke.” “There’s a difference?” Oh yeah.” Patrick forced a smile. “Nothing you wanna hear about, though…”
This admission from Patrick confused me a little and wasn’t directly addressed further. After this drunken night both Mark and Patrick know how they feel about each other. The rest of the novel concerns events that put obstacles in the way of their developing relationship. There are some really good secondary characters who provide great entertainment throughout the story – the other ‘Spartans’, Patrick’s assistant Lex, Fen, and David – Mark’s camp, ex P.A.
OUT! is the weakst of the Shamwell series. It has slightly humorous moments rather than the excellent comedy in the others, and the rather inconsistent vernacular began to grate on me a little. However, my main complaint is the inclusion of so many rather stereotypical marginalised groups and overused tropes. There is the demonised ex-wife; the recalcitrant, but ultimately more moral teenager who shows up the parents; the camp gay man, who knows everything about fashion and connecting with teenagers; the friendly, androgynous but never fully examined person; the bullied, disabled teen. We even have the sweet, but slutty Mum, who has terrible taste in ‘blokes,’ and was abused by her alcoholic husband, Patrick’s Dad.
Out! is an enjoyable, gentle read and J.L. Merrow’s writing is always good. For me however, it felt like diversity by numbers, and is a shadow of the first two books in the series. I have to reiterate that the earlier books, Played! and Caught!, would have been DIK reads for me.