Note: I wrote this review several months ago, when the book originally came out. I would now call the author an online friend.
Sensuality Rating: Uh… I’ve kind of forgotten. I guess Torrid.
It’s a little discombobulating reading a book written in the first person by someone you’ve interacted with online. I had trouble at first separating Ash, the bipolar and severely anxious narrator of the story, from Alexis Hall, the friendly Internet voice. Then the character of Darian is introduced and Ash immediately begins mocking his clothes, his hair and (relentlessly) his Essex accent. I was intensely uncomfortable until I realized — oh! Ash is an asshole.
For Ash, feeling attracted to “a man who was practically orange and wearing beneath his jacket a shirt that read ‘Sexy and I know it,’ could only have been the sick joke of a universe that despised me.” Ash is an intellectual, a successful writer, wealthy and “posh.” He’s also just barely on the other side of a psychotic break, and even navigating a conversation with a stranger is often beyond him. But Darian notices his interest, and climbs up to him, “like the world’s most ill-suited Romeo in pursuit of the world’s least convincing Juliet.” And Ash finds himself falling into a one-night stand.
“What did any of it matter? I’d never see him again. Nobody would ever know. All sense, all judgment, overthrown by an h-dropping, glottal-stopping glitter pirate, and I didn’t have to care.”
Then Darian shows up at Ash’s book signing, inconveniently revealing himself to be an actual person with feelings that were hurt when Ash disappeared in the night. And still intensely attracted, Ash winds up in the difficult position of trying to relate to someone who really wants to get to know him. “…what was I supposed to say? That I enjoyed long walks on the beach and occasionally trying to kill myself?”
Darian is a sweetheart. He’s so comfortable in his own skin that he can appreciate the differences between them that confound Ash. “I like it when you say fings, cos it sounds posh and filthy at the same time.” But he’s sensitive enough to call Ash on his snobbery, and even pokes a little fun himself:
He cleared his throat. “I say,” he said, in an outrageous RP [received pronunciation ] accent, “suck me off at once. Rar.”
I glared at him in outrage. “I do not sound like that! I’ve never said ‘I say.’ Or ‘rar.’”
“Get on wif it, peasant.”
I fell in love with Darian and Ash as a couple during their game of “Nabble,” in which you put down words that aren’t in the dictionary. (Darian easily admits that he doesn’t feel up to Scrabble against the erudite Ash.)
He was uncertain at first but soon he was nabbling like an old hand. First came glink (‘that like look what happens when two people are fancying each other from across the dance floor’), then gloffle (‘like when you put too much toffee in your mouf at once”)… And then, somehow, I got silly and offered up svlenky to describe the motion of his hips while dancing, to which he responded with flinkling, which was apparently what my brow did when I was coming up with something sarcastic to say. From there we moved through a few variations too ridiculous to be recorded. I foolishly formulated glimstruck as a representation of how it felt to be around him, and then we graduated to kissing, still fully clothed like a pair of teenagers on the wreckage of the Scrabble board.
Since this is a romance, naturally there’s a dark moment, and it’s kind of a classic. Ash does something so excruciatingly dreadful, I literally couldn’t bear to turn the page for several minutes to see the inevitable aftermath.
But Glitterland isn’t only a romance, it’s also a deeply resonant depiction of depression and anxiety. Ash is seriously mentally ill — and no, true love doesn’t mean he’s cured — and his descriptions are painfully authentic:
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.
The things I cared about were the hooks I’d driven into the rock face. Depression snapped them, one by one, one by one. My only certainty was the fall.
Ash is terrified by how happy he is with Darian. “…happiness was merely something else to lose.” But later, when he’s gut-wrenchingly screwed things up between them, he has a stunning realization: “…I wasn’t depressed. I was sad. This little piece of hurt was all my own.”
I loved almost everything about this book. The writing just… melted in my mouth, it’s so smooth and rich and sweetly tart. But I did have some discomfort with the portrayal of Darian. I doubt if, as an American, I could fully grasp all the nuances of class and culture clash that were going on here, but I felt that Darian was almost too wise and perfect in his easygoing simplicity. Part of the point of the book, of course, is that the way Darian sounds and dresses has nothing to do with his value as a person, and obviously he needs to have an attractive personality, so they can fall in love. But there was a touch of “noble savage” about him that nagged at me. It might have helped if we’d gotten to see more of his inner life.
It’s still a marvelous story. I have to quote just one more passage, because it’s such a charming comment on an opposite attracts relationship:
The cottage pie was about as wholesome and straightforward as you could get. It was food for winter evenings and happy days. And the salad was rich, complicated, a little bit sweet, a little bit sharp, and seemed to be trying way too hard to be impressive. We’d both served each other a metaphor.
I give this 4 1/2 stars. You can buy it here.
Published by Riptide. Reviewed from e-arc provided by NetGalley.