Book Review

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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!

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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  1. 1
    Deborah says:
    15+

    “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.

    …and just like that, I fell in love with the book. (I actually felt my heart do its little soulmate-recognition infatuation swoop. I am everybody in that dialogue!)

  2. 2
    CrankyOtter says:
    8+

    The quotes had me cackling. Sold!

  3. 3
    -m- says:
    4+

    Can someone tell me how you pronounce Luc in English? Is it Luke/look/luck? Something else?
    As long as I don’t know, I’d be too distracted by it to enjoy this book as lovely as it sounds.

  4. 4
    Magenta says:
    8+

    His shirt smelled of „fabric softener and virtue“ – I‘m swooning. Great review!

  5. 5
    Star says:
    5+

    Fake relationships and celebrities aren’t favourite tropes of mine, so I’d intended to pass on this one, but the reviews it’s been getting have very successfully changed my mind. Good job, reviewers!

  6. 6
    Michelle says:
    7+

    Whooooh one clicked! I was eating macaroons while reading this review en it feels like that’s the perfect cookie to go with the book?

  7. 7
    Emily C says:
    7+

    @-m- I have always pronounced the name Luc the same as I would pronounce Luke.
    My tbr pile has grown considerably this summer as I’ve been buying books but also in a reading slump (I picked up and put down at least five different books in June). This sounds so lovely and funny though…

  8. 8
    Lisa F says:
    5+

    This is getting great reviews up and down the board; sounds funny and charming, as well! It’s in my TBR pile!

  9. 9
    Maureen says:
    2+

    What a great review, I am totally in for this book! It’s a rough week, and I have been looking for things to try and raise my spirits. I cannot wait to start reading this.

  10. 10
    Elyse says:
    5+

    Miffy + Alex 4ever

  11. 11
    Liz says:
    5+

    I also loved this book (with all of its flaws you pointed out). The fake relationship seemed more realistic than others I’ve read, and the angst wasn’t unbelievable and didn’t interrupt the flow. I really want to listen to the audiobook though because I can imagine it will be fantastic.

  12. 12
    Kareni says:
    2+

    I am now definitely eager to read this. Thanks for a fine review, Carrie.

  13. 13
    Penny says:
    10+

    Okay, so I just impulsively bought all of Alexis Hall’s backlist because… so here’s the thing. I’m a giant nerd (possibly a tipsy nerd atm). And it appears Alexis is too (though I have no information regarding his tipsyness).

    I read this review and went to look at the book and then saw his website and then saw his blog and well, I fell down a rabbit hole of Star Trek TNG reviews from several years ago he posted in which his writing is just spot on and charming. He rates the episodes with bobbins, 1 bobbin for being “actually quite good” and 5 bobbins for being “completely bobbins.“

    It’s been a lovely evening reading his blog, to say the least. Oh and also he compares the TNG episode The Naked Now to the Buffy episode Band Candy. As an example of the kind of nerdery I find appealing….

  14. 14
    Penny says:
    5+

    And also from his review of the episode Datalore (which I really should have included above):

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single android in possession of a positronic brain will be in want of the ability to feel emotions and have a plot relevant problem using contractions.”

    Bahahaha

  15. 15
    Glauke says:
    3+

    I love fake dating and its cousin marriage of convenience, but they need a tight set-up for me. And this one works.

    It doesn’t hurt that it is making me laugh out loud.

    I had put in my cart when it was announced here and immediately went to purchase it yesterday. Thanks for the review, I look forward to reading the rest of it.

  16. 16
    cleo says:
    3+

    Thank you for this excellent review.

    Alexis Hall is very hit or miss for me. The books that I love by him I love completely but a lot of his writing is just not to my taste. So, so cleaver and self aware and so so so hard for me to read without rolling my eyes.

    I was on the fence after reading the preview and this review confirms that this is NOT TO MY TASTE.

    I may get this from the library eventually, but it’s so nice to know I don’t need to pay full price for this.

  17. 17
    Eliza says:
    5+

    Wow this book is so working for me right now! I really need joy this week. I’ll give different praise than others have done: I’m able to keep two characters with the exact same first & last name straight, no problem. The writing is that good. Laugh out loud funny, yes, but I don’t think I’ve ever rooted so hard for a character as I’m rooting for Luc.

  18. 18
    chacha1 says:
    4+

    I loved everything about this book except the abrupt ending. Agreeing that it needed a little more time for Luc & Oliver to settle into being happy, because right up to that moment it was one step forward and two steps back all the way through. And it’s beautifully written IMO but these guys are A MESS and they needed more time! Anyway, my personal grade would be A-.

    btw I had it on pre-order for reasons I can’t remember, so it simply landed in my Kindle to be read. But since reading it I have bought and read ‘Glitterland’ (beautiful/heartbreaking) and ‘For Real’ (the first BDSM novel I’ve ever read, this may qualify as erotica but all the sex has a purpose) and ‘Waiting for the Flood’ (novella), all of which gave me LOL moments as well as teary-eyed moments. I am not a person who LOLs or gets teary-eyed very often. Tonight I’ll be reading ‘Pansies.’ I like Mr. Hall’s style.

  19. 19
    Leonie says:
    3+

    I love most of Alexis Hall’s novels, esp. the non-supernatural ones, and I’d been looking forward to Boyfriend Material. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this adolescent self-hated and self-searching, but there was a bit too much wallowing in it for me. We all dream of a SO who will be calm and patient and understanding when we indulge in fits of childish petulance, and the characters ARE only in their late 20s, which these days practically counts as late adolescence. Still. Less wallowing and more plot, would have been my note.
    My other note would have been: less of the Dickensian cast of friends and toffee-nosed numpties. Yes, they’re amusing and, as has been said, take us back to Richard-Curtis-land, but you can have too much of a 90s thing.
    It’s clear what the plot is meant to be, and it’s clearly not beyond Alexis Hall’s skills to revise and clarify. I just feel he couldn’t be bothered to do that. And his fans’ squeeing proves him right.

  20. 20
    Eliza says:
    4+

    Leonie, you are not wrong. I agree with your critique although fan I am and squee I did. I can see myself rolling my eyes too if times were different, but this book landed in a week of such bad news and one thing Hall writes incredibly well is *hope.* I’ll take it.

  21. 21
    Kate Pearce says:
    4+

    I absolutely and completely adored this book.

  22. 22
    Kay says:
    2+

    I absolutely adored this book! I loved that Luc was a hot mess who was actually a good person, and that Oliver was more of a mess than he could admit to. Every single tender bit before they officially became a couple had my heart pounding-I may have emitted some actual “squee!” noises when Oliver saves Luc from the press and then cuddled him in bed that night.
    I agree with you that the ending could have been a bit… more. I think I’d want more of Luc and Oliver no matter how/when the author ended this book though. I want a sequel, I want a series, I want to read about them together still 50 years from now, teasing, bickering, and kissing and making up.

  23. 23
    KarenF says:
    1+

    I hadn’t read anything by Alexis Hall before (or, if I had, it wasn’t memorable), but this review got my curious enough to buy the book, and I am so glad that I did! This was a book equivalent of a warm fall day, full of leaf-crunching and cool breezes and it made me so happy.

    I had been in a bit of a book funk prior to reading this, as the pandemic apparently sapped my ability to concentrate, and this book (plus Angel of Crows, which I read immediately before it) brought me out of it.

  24. 24
    Kareni says:
    0

    I finished Boyfriend Material last night and quite enjoyed it. It made me laugh a lot!

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