Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Review: Hard Tail by JL Merrow
Hub: Are you coming to bed?
Me: No, I need to finish this book and I still have 40 pages to go.
Hub: Why don't you leave it until morning?
Me: Because I won't sleep until I finish it!
It's a good job that the Euro 2012 football is on TV at the moment otherwise hub would have been very miffed that I'd ignored him all evening.
Anyway, after that lengthy and possibly pointless introduction, you will hopefully get the idea that this book was compulsive reading.
The story centres around Tim, who, after his wife leaves him for another man, moves temporarily from London to Totton, a small town on the edge of the New Forest to look after his brother's bike shop whilst his brother is in hospital with a broken leg. The other worker in the shop is Matt, who assembles and mends bikes. Matt's a nice guy but awfully clumsy and Tim finds himself attracted to Matt. Unfortunately Matt's already taken and, besides, Tim isn't sure he's ready to tell everyone that he's gay after being a supposedly happily married man for so long.
There are a few interlocking themes in the book but two main themes that stood out for me. The first is Tim's coming out. Tim is someone who, due to various reasons, has decided to suppress his homosexuality. Kate leaving him and the move away from London acts a catalyst for Tim who decides that he could try coming out slowly and safely among people he doesn't really know. Of course, this all backfires rather and the fun of the story is following Tim as he blunders around trying to be cool and sensible about being gay, whilst on the other hand, living in fear about his parents or brother discovering his secret before he can 'experiment' with the idea. Tim is a very endearing character who seems to be constantly putting his foot in it, or more entertainingly being completely oblivious about the fact that he's not being particularly subtle in giving away his feelings. There were a few scenes where I laughed out loud at his behaviour or the situations he gets into. More than this though was my utter delight at the way that the author uses situation to further Tim as a character. Each embarrassing situation or new experience moved him further on in his journey towards happiness and fulfillment, and I was pleased when I got to the end of the book and saw how much more content Tim was with his life.
The second theme is that of partner abuse. The book is taken from Tim's first person point of view, and as is typical for him, it takes him a while to clue into the fact that Matt's bruises are not all due to his natural clumsiness. It's easy for the reader to pick up on it though because the author does such a good job in showing Matt's embarrassment, shame and even slight fear whenever his injuries are mentioned that even through Tim's eyes the theme remains strong and realistic. I liked that despite never seeing Matt and Steve together we are able to see the effect of the abuse, the lies, the excuses, recriminations and the defeat of someone who suffers from abuse. It was handled sensitively and with a deft touch that made it real without becoming too heavy and dragging down the generally lighthearted tone of the book.
There were other themes and characters to like too, as well as Tim and Matt. Tim's family were a total delight and showed a realistic family dynamic. Jay, Tim's brother, is the attention seeker of the family and I liked the way we are shown how Tim's personality has been affected by his larger than life brother. Alongside Tim's family were Matt's friends, especially Adam who showed Tim the pleasures gained in male companionship and relationships of both a platonic and sexual nature. The fact that Tim mentions no-one from his life in London, except for Kate and Alex, was very telling about just how lonely and isolated he must have been and I loved seeing Tim grow and flourish as he makes new friends in Totton. There's even a cameo appearance from Luke and Russell from Pricks and Pragmatism, which is used as a way of forwarding the plot and I was pleased to have a quick revisit of that couple.
The final thing that I liked a great deal was the way the romance develops between Tim and Matt. They become friends first, and it is the attraction that Tim feels for Matt that begins his process of re-evaluating his life and coming out of the closet. There were a number of lovely scenes where the pair just spend time with each other, the attraction and desire crackling between them, before either of them made a move. I love books with a slow build-up and it made it all the more satisfying when the pair were able to act on their attraction.
So as you can see, this is a book that I enjoyed immensely and there was so much more I could say about it that I haven't put into this review. Things like how much I enjoyed the way the setting was described, in that I felt I was actually there through the vivid description of place; or the way that the narrative was so perfectly paced that I never felt that the story dragged or was rushed; or that the author has pitch perfect 'blokey dialogue (the scenes with Tim and Adam were both funny and wholly realistic); or even that I liked the way that Tim's marriage and especially Kate is shown. Let's face it, I pretty much loved this book overall, and whilst it might not have surpassed Muscling Through as my favourite JL Merrow book, it's come a close second. I'd highly recommend Hard Tail to those looking for an entertaining romance with a big heart and a very likable narrator. A word of warning though, you may wish to set aside a chunk of time before you start it! Grade: Excellent.
Buy this book HERE.