Title: How the Other Half Lives (A London Lads Story)
Author: Clare London
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (2nd Edition)
Length: 65 Pages
At a Glance: Do you ever get tired of angst? Need a short, light book to cleanse your brain from that last heavy read? Need to remember why you love gay romance? THIS IS IT!
Reviewed By: Carrie
Blurb: Compulsive neat freak meets chaotic slob: Can their living space survive the conflict?
Martin Harrison keeps himself to himself and his Central London flat as neat as a new pin. Maybe he should loosen up and enjoy more of a social life, but in his mind, that’s tantamount to opening the floodgates to emotional chaos. He agrees, however, to join the flat-sitting scheme in his building and look after another tenant’s flat in exchange for a similar watch over his when he’s travelling for his work.
A floor away in the same building, Russ McNeely is happy with his life as a freelance cook and a self-confessed domestic slob. He also joins the flat-sitting scheme, both to be neighbourly and to help keep his flat in order, as Russ also travels for his work.
For a while, the very dissimilar men never meet. Martin is horrified at the mess at Russ’s flat, while Russ finds Martin’s minimalist style creepy. But in a spirit of generosity, each of them starts to help the other out by rearranging things in their own inimitable way.
Until the day a hiccup in the schedule brings them face-to-face at last.
Review: Enchanted. I was enchanted by this story. It’s an old trope, the slob and the neat freak, opposites attract. I grew up watching The Odd Couple on TV, and yes, I always thought they were more than roommates. But Oscar and Felix have nothing on Martin and Russ. My cheeks hurt; I smiled so much while reading this book. Clare London has such a witty banter to her writing, and her characters are so well built that it’s like you are in the same room witnessing real life interactions instead of fictional people on a page. The alternating first person POV lets you in on the quirky thought processes each man goes through to get to the realization that they belong together. Would this story benefit from being longer? Probably. But does it need to be? No, not really.
We meet Martin first, as he is conversing with his friend Ethan:
“He’s perched carelessly on the side of my sofa, swinging his foot. I stare at it, worried that his boot buckle will snag on the fabric. The sofa is a Victorian chesterfield, and the upholstery is new.”
Now, doesn’t that draw you a picture of Martin? Ethan is trying desperately to get the man to unwind just a fraction, and all Martin can think about is the ruining of his couch and whether his coaster is lined up perfectly with the base of the lamp across the room.
We meet Russ first when he is talking with his friend Don:
“Damn it to hell and back on the bus, Russ!” My old mate, Don, has a colorful portfolio of curses. That’s the fourth time he’s fallen over that packing case of assorted books and stubbed his toe, and he hasn’t run out of fresh expletives yet.
The common thread between the two men is that both their friends feel they need socialization in some way, and both men seek it out in the least intrusive way possible—through signing up for a flat-sitting service. What commences is several chapters of back and forth banter wherein each man is initially horrified with the condition of the other man’s flat, and seeks to change it in subtle ways. Notes are left and a rapport is established, even if the two men have never met face to face. The change goes almost unnoticed by the men in question, but their friends are astounded. When Martin and Russ finally meet, the attraction is immediate, and since they already know intimate details of how the other lives, romance develops swiftly. After all, they have grown comfortable in each other’s space.
“Look, Martin, sorry about that. Obviously it’s not –“ He interrupts me, his words all in a rush. “Are you scared of stepping on my toes, Russ?” I draw in a breath. “Are you scared of falling over mine, Martin?” We do that staring thing again, and then we both smile.
Watch the chapter headings; London uses them as clever insights and anecdotes on what the next chapter contains. It is yet another way of adding layers to the storyline and directing you as a reader forward in the story.
Do you ever get tired of angst? Need a short, light book to cleanse your brain from that last heavy read? Need to remember why you love gay romance? THIS IS IT! It’s a big wallop of happy and yes, totally enchanting.
You can buy How the Other Half Lives here: