Desert Isle Keeper
The Lawrence Browne Affair
Writing is a very personal endeavor, and every author leaves pieces of herself on the pages of her books. An exceptional novel will make you believe you’ve met its author, and I feel like I know Cat Sebastian a little after reading The Lawrence Browne Affair. There’s an emotional depth and complexity to her principal characters – Lawrence and Georgie – that can only be achieved by Ms. Sebastian revealing parts of herself in the process. Her characters are painstakingly and meticulously developed, and we are witness to some of their most intimate and unfiltered thoughts and feelings – moments that are rarely shared with another human being – which makes the reading experience emotional and poignant. The Lawrence Browne Affair is an excellent, character-driven romance that reminds us everyone deserves to love and be loved.
Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Randor, is convinced he’s mad, and has plenty of reasons to believe it. His father and older brother were infamously insane; he has bouts where his mind’s chaos overwhelms him to the point of paralysis, and he lives as a hermit to try and prevent these moments from occurring. He’s also a man attracted to men, which he sees as part of his affliction. At thirty, he’s resigned to his madness and he no longer bothers to have relationships, care about the passage of time, maintain grooming or fashion standards or ensure the upkeep and preservation of his ancestral estate. His only interests are scientific research and inventions, and his work provides an indirect relief from the loneliness of his self-imposed isolation on his barely-habitable, decaying Cornwall estate.
The local vicar’s periodic visits are Lawrence’s only reliable human interaction or semblance of friendship, and the vicar genuinely cares for him. When he learns of a threat to have the Earl declared legally insane and locked away, he asks an old friend – Oliver Rivington (The Soldier’s Scoundrel) – to find a secretary for Lawrence who might be able to vouch for his sanity if accusations are ever made against him – and Lawrence also truly needs a secretary.
Georgie Turner is serendipitously given the opportunity to fill this position, although he’s hardly qualified to be a secretary. Growing up in London’s rookeries, he had little formal education and has spent most of his twenty-five years operating as a con man, determined never to return to the poverty he experienced as a child. He has a thief’s code of honor, however, choosing to never take advantage of the naïve, and ends up backing out of a job mid-scheme because of it, thus angering Mattie Brewster, the crime lord who puts up with Georgie operating on his turf in return for half Georgie’s profits. Brewster is angered and attempts to physically extract retribution; therefore, the position in Cornwall is perfect for Georgie to hide until he can sort his mess out. Besides, this mad earl might prove to be an ideal mark – Georgie never stops thinking like a con man.
Lawrence didn’t know about the threat or the vicar’s machinations and when Georgie arrives, he tries to drive him away with unpleasant behavior, but Georgie isn’t easily driven away – he’s faced far scarier men than an eccentric earl. He’s horrified that a gentleman would choose to live in such a state of dishevelment in a house in total shambles, but he realizes immediately upon meeting Lawrence that he is not mad. He is different, foul-tempered, remarkably brilliant and ill-mannered – but he’s not insane.
Georgie ignores Lawrence’s theatrics and begins working as his secretary while also continuing to evaluate the opportunities for a swindle. He is surprised to discover he enjoys his secretarial work and is quite good at it, and he genuinely likes the odd, surly Lawrence. He begins to readjust Lawrence’s environment in small ways to create a bit of normalcy for him, but he never attempts to change him. He doesn’t believe Lawrence needs changing – he needs servants, a haircut, new clothes, a clean and stable home, order and routine, but – most importantly – he needs to realize he’s not mad.
Lawrence begins to appreciate Georgie, value the work he does and be comfortable having him around, but he can’t deny the sexual attraction he feels towards him. Georgie appears to share the same feelings and even seems open to a physical relationship, but Lawrence cannot accept that he can be with anyone because of his madness, and he certainly will not allow himself to desire a man.
More than anything, Georgie wants to free Lawrence from his own mental torture and judgment, and this unselfish desire makes him realize that he’s come to care for him. He sees Lawrence less as a potential mark, and he actually likes his honest job and rural lifestyle, which is a terribly disconcerting realization. Georgie’s never imagined not being a con man, and he’s certainly never thought he could be in a relationship with someone like Lawrence.
Georgie powers of persuasion are exceptional, because he’s able to change Lawrence’s opinions about his homosexuality fairly quickly – perhaps too quickly to be believable – and they become lovers. Their feelings also develop a tad quickly, but both men fight the process because neither believes themselves worthy of love or happiness. It’s heart-breaking and bitterly sweet to observe these two strong and resilient men tell themselves that they are simply not good enough.
The plot of The Lawrence Browne Affair fades into the background and becomes overshadowed by the intense exploration of how Georgie and Lawrence’s self-perception defines their feelings of self-worth and their ability to accept the other’s love. It’s a profound and moving presentation, but it moves at a slower pace that may cause some readers’ interest to wane. There’s a lot of page space given to Lawrence and Georgie’s physical attributes – Lawrence is big, hairy and masculine while Georgie is small and feminine – but then, I find the repeated glowing descriptions of extraordinarily beautiful characters in m/f romances just as disruptive.
Ultimately, Lawrence and Georgie’s journey beautifully reminds us that love defies our logical mind’s attempt to control and limit it. Whether you’re a thief who stole to survive, a nobleman grappling with mental illness or a man who loves another man, you deserve love. The Lawrence Browne Affair will push you to consider if the word ‘should’ has a place before the word ‘love,’ and the experience will make you more compassionate towards yourself and empathetic to others. At the very least, you’ll have read a mesmerizing and powerful character-centric love story.