I laughed so hard at this wonderful book, and I cried a little as well. Boyfriend Material is a contemporary m/m romance/rom-com set in England. Because it’s all told from one character’s point of view and is focused on that character’s personal and romantic development, it fits the rom-com structure more than romance. Either way you look at it, prepare to laugh and be prepared to swoon.
The story is told by Luc, a twenty-eight-year old man who is romantically adrift. His parents are famous musicians. His dad, Jon Fleming, abandoned him and his mother when Luc was three. Periodically the paparazzi take an interest in Luc so he’s constantly afraid that anyone he gets close to will sell his story to the papers. He went through a terrible break-up in college followed by an extensive self-destructive partying period which the paparazzi LOVED. A lifetime of being scrutinized by the media, plus his dad leaving him and said terrible break-up, left him with massive abandonment and trust issues and low self-esteem despite a great group of friends and a supportive mother.
By the time the book starts, Luc has mostly cleaned up his act. He works for a non-profit dedicated to saving dung beetles (Nerd Friends, read this link OMG). Its name, I am so happy to tell you, is the Coleoptera Research and Protection Project, which accidentally can be shortened to CRAPP. As Luc says, “What I tend to say at interviews for other jobs I don’t get is that there isn’t another faeces-based environmental charity that raises more money than we do.” My joy is sparked, people.
Luc trips on his way out of a party, and the picture ends up in the papers making it seem as though Luc passed out in the gutter instead of being sober and clumsy. This happens just as Luc is coordinating the annual Beetle Drive fundraising dinner. In an effort to appear more respectable, Luc gets a fake boyfriend, Oliver. Oliver is a barrister who does criminal defense and uses words such as “verisimilitude.” Luc is emotionally and physically messy and Oliver is tidy in every aspect of his life. Their first date is a disaster, but Luc needs a date for the Beetle Drive and Oliver needs a date for a family function, so he agrees to be Luc’s fake boyfriend. Personal growth, hijinks, and sexual chemistry ensue.
I’m not a huge fan of the fake dating trope but I adored this book, which uses it to great effect. Readers will get strong Notting Hill / Bridget Jones’s Diary vibes from Luc’s supportive friends, and I delighted in his “Token Straight Girl” Bridget’s constant parade of crises in the book publishing industry. Luc’s workplace is also a never-ending source of joy as he endeavors to tell jokes to his perpetually confused and impossibly posh co-worker Alexander Twaddle. We meet Alex before we meet Oliver and truthfully at first I wanted Luc to end up with Alex even though Alex is straight and has a girlfriend. Alex even offers to be the fake boyfriend:
“Why don’t you tell them that you’re going out with me?”
“You’re not gay. And everybody knows you’re not gay.”
He shrugged. “I’ll tell them I’ve changed my mind.”
“I’m really not sure that’s how it works.”
“I thought these things were supposed to be fluid nowadays. Twentieth century and all that.”
This was not the time to remind Alex what century it was. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?” I asked.
“Oh yes, Miffy. I’d quite forgotten. But she’s a terrific girl. She won’t mind at all.”
“In her place, I would mind. I would mind a lot.”
“Well, maybe that’s why you don’t have a boyfriend.” He gave me a faintly wounded look. “You sound very demanding.”
In every review, it is my job to focus less on plot and quotes and more on explaining what I do and don’t like about the book, and to whom it may appeal. Well, the romance is wonderful, more on that later, but the bottom line is that this book will appeal to those who read the above with joy in their hearts. Either you love this kind of daffy dialogue, which is essentially a gentle Monty Python, or you do not, and if you do not then this book will not spark joy. And yes, I’ve used the word ‘joy’ twice in this paragraph alone, but that is the emotion I feel when this sort of dialogue occurs.
The romance between Luc and Oliver works because it gets plenty of time to grow. Because Luc and Oliver are both terrible at relationships, the “fake romance” thing is perfect for them. It lets them each have some time to practice, complete with some false starts:
“Are we really bad at this?” I asked. “We’ve been fake dating for three days and we’ve already fake broken up once.”
“Yes, but we fake resolved our difficulties and fake got back together, and I’m hoping it’s made us fake stronger.”
With each conversation, text, and horribly awkward meeting of family members, Oliver and Luc, who have nothing in common, find that they get along wonderfully well. They make each other laugh. They develop mutual respect. They also eat some amazing food. They watch reality TV together (Luc’s father, who has cancer and wants to reconcile with Luc is a judge on a fictionalized version of The Voice).
The characters and the development of the relationship is lovely. The language used to describe details is clever, such as when the messy Luc describes Oliver’s T-shirt as smelling of “fabric softener and virtue.” The tentative details of closeness in a slow burn relationship are poignant, as when Oliver and Luc are watching TV and, Luc says, “I let my head rest against his knee, and, somewhere between the mini-challenge and the runway, Oliver’s hand began stroking softly through my hair.”
Ultimately, while I absolutely expect Luc and Oliver to grow old together, this story is very much about healing from familial wounds and learning how to function in a relationship rather than establishing a HEA. Both parties admit that they still have a lot of growing to do, but they are willing to grow together. If any specific thing is holding this book back from perfection, it’s that the book ends in mid-conversation. I don’t mind the concept of a Happy for Now, but this story could have used a slightly longer last chapter or maybe an epilogue. Additionally, we don’t find out what Oliver’s issues are until almost the end of the book, which works as a good reveal but could have been explored further.
Despite my quibbles, I thought this book was lovely. It had real depth. There were characters who made me angry. Sometimes those characters were truly awful people and sometimes they were good people who made mistakes (hello, Luc, you mess). Sometimes the book made me sad. Mostly, it made me swoon and laugh in equal measure – a great stress read!