I chose this book to read for an LGBT+ round table discussion on romance, and how I regret it.
“Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.”
I wanted to love this. It’s been very well reviewed nearly everywhere, so I assumed it was worth a shot. About 30 pages into it, I was already lamenting my choice. The author chooses to write the character of Darian, an Essex boy, with such ridiculous disrespect it made me loathe scenes with him, which was a shame because Darian is one of the few characters that isn’t a huge asshole in the book! However the choice Hall makes in writing out Darian’s accent phonetically makes it jarring to read and, at some points, I had to read sentences out loud to figure out what they were supposed to say. It took me straight out of the story and I thought it was pretty heavy handed. I have friends from Essex and sure, there’s an accent, but it doesn’t make them unintelligent or hard to understand. This is a ridiculous stereotype. Hall and our main character of Ash, paints Darian as a complete unknowledgeable idiot throughout the book which made no sense. Why date someone you think is a moron? Why mock them in front of your friends and theirs? That’s not love or a budding relationship, it’s bullying and borders on emotional manipulation.
Honestly though, my real struggle with this book was the main character, Ash. We’re told the entire story through a first person narrative and I struggled to find out why Ash has ANY friends, much less a love interest. I understand he is suffering from mental health issues. Mental health issues, however, are not an excuse to be an asshole. Ash is constantly condescending and rude to Darian but we’re just supposed to accept that as a part of his personality. Ash is insufferable. He thinks he’s the smartest person in the room at all points but really he’s just a pseudo-intellectual jerk. I have no problem with an unrelatable narrator, even one with no redeemable qualities, but if the story has a central romance theme I have to somehow believe that these two people have found aspects in one another that are attractive and make it worth working through issues. There’s no working through issues here. Ash is Ash and Darian accepts it. Darian can do better.
Niall was the most interesting character in this book. He was a jerk a lot of the time, but he was a much more interesting jerk than Ash. I wish there had been more of him.
I’ve heard lots of positive feedback about this author and maybe I’ll give his work another go, but god please tell me his other books aren’t as full of meaningless similes and metaphors. It felt like a 10th grade Creative Writing class when those popped up amongst otherwise fine writing.
Author: Alexis Hall
Three Descriptors: Dialect Heavy, Flawed, Character driven
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