by Alexis Hall
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
One (fake) boyfriendPractically perfect in every way
Luc O'Donnell is tangentially--and reluctantly--famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he's never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad's making a comeback, Luc's back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.
To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship...and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He's a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he's never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.
But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that's when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don't ever want to let them go.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »parent with cancer, casual homophobia, narcissistic parental figure, verbally abusive and overcontrolling parents, panic attacks, eating disorder, harassment by paparazzi, minor mentions of drug and alcohol abuse « Hide Spoiler
You know how some people say something’s a romcom but when you go read it, it’s… just not funny? And it takes itself much too seriously? And then you sit there wondering if, five months into this pandemic, you’re just a soulless husk of a person now? OK, well, this book is not that. This is the laugh-out-loud, can’t put down, still-deals-with-serious-issues-but-god-so-well all-the-feels real deal. Plus, it’s got my favorite trope – fake relationship – and that makes this an absolutely stellar read.
“Oh hello, rock bottom. Nice to see you again. Do you want to be my boyfriend?”
As the son of two famous rock stars, Luc’s had a rough time with the associated fame. When a chance paparazzi photo goes viral for all the wrong reasons, his boss gives him an ultimatum – shape up his image for their squeamish donors or he’s fired. But how’s he going to find someone that perfect who’s still going to be willing to date him? Enter Oliver, straight-laced barrister and snazzy dresser. Luc and Oliver will pretend to date, and Luc will get the “good gay” press coverage he needs as well as a straight-acceptable date for his work fundraiser, while Oliver will have a date for his parents’ wedding anniversary party. Sure even two such very different people can pretend to get along for that long?
“I increasingly think some people are meant to be lonely. I’m lonely because I’m a wreck and nobody wants me. He’s lonely because he’s awful and nobody wants him.”
“See. You do have something in common.”
Alexis Hall has the ability to write a character who is, by his own admission, an absolute prick at the start of the book but also completely sympathetic. Luc’s the type of guy to lie about speaking French to his date, then when his date (predictably) starts trying to talk to him in it, spouts out the only phrase he knows – “where’s the bathroom?” – and then feels obligated to go to said bathroom after Oliver answers. Basically, Luc’s a hot mess, and things become even more complicated when his estranged father reaches out to him. On the other hand, Oliver’s… boring. Boring and a bit judgmental and uptight. He doesn’t actually see himself as judgmental – despite such doozies as “you shouldn’t eat meat because of the environment” and “you shouldn’t use Uber because of workers’ rights” – until Luc points it out, but at heart he’s quite the sweet person. Luc also envies his apparently perfectly normal childhood with his perfectly normal set of parents.
“He was gazing at me, with this terrible earnestness, meaning every word. And, y’know, it was fine, I could cope with this, I could have feelings, it was fine. Never mind that there was this sense of nakedness settling over me, strangely independent of the fact that I was actually naked. And never mind that every time he touched me it was like he was unmaking me with tenderness. And definitely never mind that I needed this so badly I wasn’t sure how to have it.”
The story is told solely from Luc’s first person POV, so the reader has a front row seat to not only all of Luc’s mess-ups with Oliver but also the confusing attraction he feels for him, not to mention having to deal with the fact that the most functional relationship Luc’s ever had is with this fake boyfriend. The way Luc slowly accepts that he’s worthy of having that kind of relationship – that Oliver’s worthy of that kind of relationship – is just heartwrenchingly sweet. So was watching them learn to lean on and support each other. There’s a particular moment near the end of the book – the moment that leads directly into the dark moment – where I was literally crying with how proud I was of Luc for standing up for Oliver, and by extension, himself. Their relationship is an all-the-feels rollercoaster and it is delightful.
Of course, all those feels are perfectly balanced by the humor. There were several points where I literally laughed out loud, sometimes directly after tearing up due to the already mentioned feels. The secondary characters are absolutely hilarious and well done. There’s the posh aristocrat Luc works with who, for example, confuses jury trials with badgers (“terrible for dairy farmers”) or the fact that two of Luc’s friends were named James Royce who, after their marriage, are now referred to as the James Royce-Royces. Luc’s mom is an absolute treasure, doling out the perfect amount of support and advice with a hilarious twist. Even Luc’s estranged father, who could easily have been written as a cardboard villain, is nuanced and flawed in very specific ways that help highlight Luc’s own messiness.
Overall, easily 4.5 stars and most likely the funniest book I will read this year. Alexis Hall is an absolute master of the rom-com and I am very much looking forward to whatever he writes next. Highly recommended!