Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Boyfriend Material, by Alexis Hall

I read a book! In, like, a normal amount of time for reading a book instead of my usual “multiple months.” (I have been reading India After Gandhi since September. I'm still reading it. I read a little bit more of it every day. It's possible I'll finish it before this September.)

Several people on a discord channel I frequent have been on an Alexis Hall binge recently, set off by one person, Eseme, giving a long and enthusiastic recommendation for his entire oeuvre. I’d read two Alexis Hall books already -- There will Be Phlogiston and Pansies, and they were solid if not favorites. I decided to try another, and picked Boyfriend Material because it was available from Hoopla, and Eseme’s favorite.

There is a lot to like about Boyfriend Material. The main protagonists are engaging and the writing is witty and compelling. I put down pretty much everything I pick up these days, so just “I got through an entire book in under 24 hours without ever wanting to give up on it” says a great deal. There’s an eclectic supporting cast of friends, relatives, and co-workers, and if they’re not necessarily plausible, they are at least entertaining. The protagonists walk the line of “lovable but still flawed.”

The characters don’t have sex until over halfway through the book and after they’ve established a serious emotional bond, which I loved. The sex scenes were less explicit than I’m used to, and focused on the narrator’s mental state more than the physical details, which I also adored. (I never write sex scenes like this, but I’d like to.)

Some of the scenes are heartbreakingly sweet and tender, the kind I like to re-read when I finish a romance novel. I’ve re-read several of my favorite parts already.

On the other hand, I was sad pretty much the entire time I read the book, which is a weird way to feel about a romance. Part of why I kept reading was that romances are guaranteed a happy ending and I hoped that I would stop being sad about the book when I got to the end.

I got to the end and I’m still sad, so that part didn’t work.

I can’t tell whether I am sad about the story or just depressed in general, since I have been depressed for most of February. But the thing about the story that I found saddest was that the protagonist, Luc, had zero self-esteem, self-sabotaged regularly, and for most of the book he was depressed, miserable, or panicking about the looming threat of things going wrong (usually because he would make them go wrong.) His self-sabotage mode was “treat the people around you abominably.” So, uh, content note for that.

Luc is extremely aware of his assortment of problems. He’s not cognizant of his good qualities, and I kept wanting to see him through the eyes of his love interest, Oliver. I wanted to know what Oliver found loveable about him. But Luc is the only narrator. I’d hoped the climax might show more of Oliver’s side, but it didn’t. Like, I could see the narrator had good qualities, but he spends so much time wallowing in the bad that it was hard not to fall into the same trap Luc was in, of believing that he wasn’t worth it. So yay, they’re together at the end, but they’d broken up like three times during the course of the book. “Just got back together” feels like the latest iteration of on-again, off-again instead of a happily-ever-after.

And it turns out the author is planning a direct sequel, Husband Material, so that “this story doesn’t feel complete” feeling is presumably intentional.

Anyway, I have now discovered my ability to be sad about a romance with a happy ending and where no one dies or gets seriously injured or anything else, so I feel like I’ve achieved a new depth of “just can’t feel good about anything, can you.”

I am pretty sure this is on me and not the book. It’s a good book. I recommend it.

I’ve thought about trying another book since I successfully read one, but also I’m like “I’m already sad and I don’t want to read another book that lets me discover new ways to be EVEN SADDER” so I dunno.

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Tags: book review, review

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