Riptide / August 26, 2013 / $16.99 print
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. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.
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.
But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?
Glitterland is Alexis Hall’s first novel, a male/male romance with hints of literary fiction in its narration, appropriate since the protagonist and first-person narrator, Ash Winters, wrote literary genre fiction before turning to popular mysteries. Ash is at a low point in his life; he’s struggled with addiction and suicide attempts, and though his severe manic depression is supposedly stabilized with medication, he feels trapped and joyless. At the novel’s beginning, he is about to fall back into old, unhealthy patterns because he can’t imagine anything better. Hall has a deft hand with depicting Ash’s state of mind, which helped me to quickly sympathize with the character’s suffering while growing curious about how he would be able to climb out of his pit of despair.
All the counselling in the world couldn’t teach me how to think rationally about my episodes, so I feared them. I feared them with a pure and primal instinct, like dreading the dark or flinching from fire. In all these years, this is all I have learned: Depression simply is. It has no beginning and no end, no boundaries and no world outside itself. It is the first, the last, the only, the alpha and the omega. Memories of better times die upon its desolate shores. Voices drown in its seas. The mind becomes its own prisoner.
Ash’s path back to happiness travels through his romantic entanglement with an aspiring model, Darian Taylor. What made the romance with Darian so interesting is that Ash is attracted to his, on the surface, complete opposite. Ash is highly educated and “talks like the Queen.” Darian wears what Ash thinks of as tacky, glittery clothing (think Freddie Mercury’s military-style jackets, with more flash), is direct and honest about his desires in a way Ash can’t bring himself to be, and has a strong accent which Ash clearly feels is low-class. (Non-British readers interested what Darian’s Essex accent would actually sound like can find numerous examples on YouTube.)
Ash desperately desires Darian from the first moment he sees him, but at the same time tries to punish himself for his desires by dwelling on how he’s slumming it with someone from outside his social class. He tries to convince himself he only wants sex from Darian, though it’s clear early on that he sees something more than surface in the other man. Readers of historical romance might find some common themes here. For his part, Darian is smart, self-assured, and can hold his own with Ash, even though he’s often self-deprecating.
“Bet you can’t even remember my name. That right, Alasdair Ashley Winters?”
…“It was a one-night stand. You weren’t expecting to take me home to meet Nana Essex, were you?”
“Leave my nan outta this.” He wagged a finger at me, faded silver gleaming on the nail like a piece of fallen star. “Just cos it was a hook-up don’t mean you go running out like you was on fire, janarwhatamean? That was bang aht of order.”
I suddenly noticed that his eyes were blue. A pale, changeable blue that shifted in the light and with his mood, mapping a subtle, private spectrum from grey to green. I found them rather lovely, and it was terrifying. “Well,” I snapped, “I’m sorry I failed to display the appropriate casual sex etiquette, but what would have been the point of hanging around?”
“Dunno. Could’ve ’ad breakfast, could’ve done it again. But it’s not abaht that.”
“What is it about, then?”
He turned and caught me staring, and—like a fly in honey—I couldn’t turn away. “I fought you liked me,” he said simply. “It’s not like I wanted to marry you or nuffin, but I didn’t fink you was gonna make me feel like a slapper.”
Glitterland’s snappy and often humorous dialogue for me was the best part of the novel. The banter between Ash and Darian in particular highlights their social differences, adding spice to their conflicts and making the resolution, when they can agree on common ground, all the more satisfying.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Glitterland by Alexis Hall before its release (August 26, 2013):