Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 253 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Humor
At a Glance: Wiltshire is undeniably a talented writer. There were lots of things that made me chuckle. There were also a handful of things that had me saying, ‘Ummm…whut?’ But, overall, I quite liked it.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: What a pity the founding members of the new Gay Book Club didn’t think to use a correctly placed hyphen—if they had, things might have worked out for everyone very differently indeed.
Rory McGrath suffers from a debilitating condition—he caught it from reading too many books. Rory believes in true love. He’s saving himself until he finds it, preferably with Mr Darcy, but definitely not with the arrogant, unpleasant ape Adam Sandstone. Adam isn’t impressed with Rory either. Both Rory and Adam have yet to learn, however, that you cannot always judge a book by its cover. The nine other members of the new club could have told them this, had they been consulted. The founders of the Buckland-in-the-Vale and Sandstone Tor Gay Book Club know only too well that not all truths are written in books. Truth, like life, is what you make of it.
Review: The Buckland-in-the-Vale and Sandstone Tor Gay Book Club (Inaugural Meeting) was my first John Wiltshire book, and, I believe, was his first foray into comedy. I’m familiar with his other work—except for a couple of contemporaries, he writes largely mystery/suspense thrillers—and have had his More Heat Than the Sun series on my list forever but hadn’t yet gotten to any of his titles…until I saw this one. Is that title a mouthful, or what?! Ha! When I saw this book come across the publisher’s list, I definitely had to see what it was all about.
Part satire, part rom-com, the story revolves around Rory and Adam, a group of elderly women—in the story and hereafter referred to as ‘the old dears’—and of course, a gay book club. To be clear, it’s not a gay club, but rather a club that was started to discuss gay books. That’s a distinction that both Rory and Adam would have liked to have been clearer from the beginning. It’s a clever premise, and for the most part, a good story. After reading the first chapter I thought, “This is going to be so charming. A fun, British comedy. One of my faves.” And, much of it was what I expected and hoped for.
Rory is so lovely. An English literature teacher, an avid cyclist, and simply an all-around kind soul, he was probably my favorite thing about the book. I loved his little partial sentence stammering – which I think Adam also found endearing, despite his complaints about it at times—his colorful personality, and that he was a diehard romantic and lover of books. Rory also had a great sense of humor; even when Adam thought he might be uptight about something, he wasn’t. He definitely made me giggle. I loved this bit in the beginning, when Rory first sees the sign for the club and decides to attend the meeting:
“Being gay, something of an expert on books, and very, very in need of some friends, all of this seemed like an exceedingly good idea to Rory as he stowed his bike in his tiny shed and stripped off his helmet.
Books and other local gay men.
What could possibly go wrong?”
What could possibly go wrong indeed. Actually, if Rory had been able to predict how things would go, he may have attended anyway. Adam on the other hand? I definitely think he would have run in the other direction.
Adam Sandstone is a local boy who has been away serving in the army for twelve years, but has now come back home to look after his injured father and run the family farm. He never expected to run into and fall for someone as ridiculous (his words) as Rory McGrath right in his small home village. As far as ideas about romance go, Adam is basically the anti-Rory. He wants nothing to do with romance, or relationships, or settling down. So, the possibility of a future together for the two of them does not look too promising. Enter the old dears—who have taken it upon themselves to get Adam and Rory together into coupledom and headed straight for their real life gay romance HEA.
Via the old dears, Wiltshire is no doubt taking a satirical look at women reading gay romance, and in some part, romantic ideals in general. The main voice of the old dears is Gertrude’s. She and her roommate Ivy discover the joy of reading gay romance while on holiday in Cornwall, and decide that they absolutely must share it with everyone they know. Hence the idea of the book club is born. The most hilarious thing about the old dears, and the whole premise of the club and their meddling in Rory and Adam’s affairs, is that because of their discovery and enjoyment of these books, they are now self-professed “experts” in all things gay men.
“Gertrude had determined that Rory and Adam were the embodiment of gay book romance. They had the main necessary ingredient after all: mutual initial antipathy. True, it seemed incredible even to her that they could actually fall deeply in love and live faithful to the gay ideal from that initial rather unfortunate start. But it had happened in every book she’d read, and she didn’t see why, with a little encouragement, it couldn’t happen to them, too.”
And, this little nugget…
“…tension between the main characters was also vital; and jealousy of another male was the number one factor in any good relationship between gay men.”
Aren’t Rory and Adam lucky to have the old dears in their corner? They could really benefit from all of this “expertise”, dontcha think? 😉
These women—perhaps with the exception of Gertrude, who we definitely get to know a bit better than the others—as vital a role as they played in the story, unfortunately didn’t become real to me until the last third of the book. They do provide comic relief throughout, of course, but I appreciated them much more fully toward the end, when they were humanized by their respective health and living situations, and their collective need. I loved where Wiltshire took the story in these last chapters; and, even though it was a bit predictable, I absolutely enjoyed how it all played out.
There were a few things that didn’t work as well for me. First, there was some pretty crazy insta-love happening on Rory’s part. He definitely threw me for a loop with how quickly he began musing about he and Andrew moving in together and being in love. In fact, a common trait for many of the characters in the book was frequently jumping to wild conclusions and running off with some crazy idea in their heads. Also, the story flow could have been better. I thought it jumped around between POVs a bit too much. And finally, I truly did feel like Rory’s friend Lexi was a throwaway character. For me, she didn’t contribute anything but a negative presence. I hate how mean that sounds! But, it’s true.
Wiltshire is undeniably a talented writer. There were lots of things that made me chuckle. There were also a handful of things that had me saying, ‘Ummm…whut?’ But, overall, I quite liked it.
You can buy The Buckland-in-the-Vale and Sandstone Tor Gay Book Club here: