Spun! by J L Merrow
Published by: Riptide Publishing
Genre: contemporary romance/comedy
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Whimsical English village romance with bonus appearances from a very fashionably-dressed teddy bear.
With friends like these…
An ill-advised encounter at the office party leaves David Greenlake jobless and homeless in one heady weekend. But he quickly begs work from his ex-boss and takes a room in Shamwell with easygoing postman Rory Deamer. David doesn’t mean to flirt with the recently divorced Rory—just like he doesn’t consciously decide to breathe. After all, Rory’s far too nice for him. And far too straight.
Rory finds his new lodger surprisingly fun to be with, and what’s more, David is a hit with Rory’s troubled children. But while Rory’s world may have turned upside down in the last few years, there’s one thing he’s sure of: he’s straight as a die. So he can’t be falling for David… can he?
Their friends and family think they know all the answers, and David’s office party hookup has his own plans for romance. Rory and David need to make up their minds and take a stand for what they really want—or their love could be over before it’s even begun.
Review: Spun! Is the fourth book in Merrow’s Shamwell Tales series, the previous three having just been re-issued by Riptide over the last month (after the demise of their previous publisher). All are worth reading to a greater or lesser extent (my favourite is the first, Caught!), but all also stand alone, so you don’t need to read the previous books to enjoy this.
Spun! does something that Merrow does quite often in her work: have quirky, often naïve men as point of view characters, and draw comedy from all the social cues that go whizzing over their head. When this works, it really, really works (her magnificent Muscling Through being the prime example), but it can miss quite badly. When it does (and Merrow has missed for me occasionally), the story shifts from an oddball comedy where we affectionately laugh with the characters as they try to navigate society to a rather cruel comedy where we laugh at those different from us. It took me a while to work out which side of the line this one fell on, but ultimately I think the affectionate fun being poked at Rory and David throughout the story ends up humanizing them rather than demeaning them.
Rory is a genuinely nice, honest bloke who has a thoroughly uncomplicated view of life, and an complete inability to perceive irony. If one were to be unkind, one might call him a doormat – he’s relatively passive, and things just seem to happen to him, rather than him controlling his life. He’s also really rather earnest. But to focus on that is to miss what makes him a good character, as well as a sympathetic one. He’s passive largely because he’s willing to do what others need to help out, and while he is a bit cringingly earnest, that’s largely because he is a kind man without much art to him. Very few men like this get to be the heroes of books, let alone love interests, so it’s really nice to see.
The depiction of David is what made me unsure about this book initially. He’s essentially a seventies sitcom gay crossed with Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead revisited – he even has a nattily dressed teddy bear which he carries around with him! Such a campy character – and one who rather enjoys casual sex – could have very easily have meant that David’s flamboyant gayness was something to be made fun of, and I worried at first that it might be. I’m pleased to report, however, that as the narrative proceeds, we begin to realise that while definitely charmingly eccentric, much of David’s personality is simply him reflecting what people expect of him. People expect him to be an unreliable flighty gay, so that’s what he gives them. When people – notably Rory & his kids – expect more, he gives more, and it becomes apparent that under all the glitz is a very kind heart.
Both Rory and David are also shown to be thoroughly competent at their job, and I really like this. Neither is portrayed as brilliantly smart or outrageously talented, and their competence at, and dignity in, everyday work is nice to see. The relationship comes together nicely without any outrageous contrivances, and includes a really good, admirably no-nonsense realisation of his bisexuality by Rory. Others may have a few issues with it (you need a bit of conflict to drive the plot!), but he’s largely unruffled at working out in his forties that he’s attracted to men. Bonus points, too, for a good depiction of Rory’s exes – his ex-girlfriend is a supportive friend, and even his ex-wife’s motivations make sense. The latter was particularly good to see, given that my least favourite part of the previous Shamwell book has been an absurdly shrewish ex-wife.
What we’re left with, then, is a sweet, amusing book that plays with stereotypes rather than buying into them. A quirky, gentle pleasure.
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: The quirkiness can come across a bit affected, and if you don’t connect with David’s campiness, the book won’t work for you.
What you will love: A funny, warm-hearted May-December (more like October) romance. Bisexuality in older men done right.
Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters. Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else? Connect with Edwin on Twitter.