Published by Riptide on 5/15/13
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The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.
Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.
Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.
But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?
I first read this book two years ago when one of my favorite authors (of all time) recommended it. I remember loving it the first time I read it, thinking it insightful, humorous, touching, and real. I left with the impression that Alexis Hall was a talented writer who knew how to quickly engage a reader, impressing with his smartly crafted prose and memorable characters. Yesterday, when I decided to reread this (after recommending it to a friend), all my initial impressions still stood. Today, I think they’re a paltry description of Glitterland and Alexis Hall. I’ve been thoroughly impressed again, and I’m somewhat flabbergasted that Glitterland is even better than I remembered. This book is truly that damn good.
First, don’t let the cover dissuade you from giving this book a chance. It’s utterly ridiculous, but beautifully appropriate for this novel that kind of left me star struck. Glitterland is told from the perspective of Ash Winters, a severely reclusive and socially inept writer who battles Bipolar Disorder. One night Ash meets Darian — a ‘glitter pirate’ as he sardonically dubs him — and after an intensely sensual and unexpectedly stirring one-night stand, Ash finds himself completely mesmerized by a man so far removed from his world, that he questions whether he’s real or a creation of his sometimes unreliable mind.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s not about the story, but how the story is told,” or some variation of those words? This is that kind of book. Glitterland isn’t the most original romance, with the opposites-attract trope, as well as the reclusive protagonist who’s taken out of their shell by a charming love interest. Also, the intensity of their connection, and the time that the novel spans might even lump it in the insta-love category, though there are no trite declarations at any point in this impressive novel, and the characters are much too substantial for that (even the starburst-sweet glitter pirate). Sure, the fact that this is M/M sets it apart a bit, but what really makes this book stand out is simply the writing.
In a little over 200 pages, Alexis Hall showcases the kind of writing that makes it difficult for me to think of another romance writer who’s impressed me more. He’s the best. His poetic prose enveloped me from the very first page, and with the most lyrical and memorable style, he so effortlessly conveyed a wide range of emotions without ever crossing the line to pretentiousness (no purple prose here). The impactful writing, especially the introspection, was enhanced by the dialogue, which was mainly between Ash (the eloquent Cambridge grad) and Darian (the Essex bloke who loosely pronounces most words). The contrast between the two made for the most scrumptious scenes filled with crackling chemistry and sweet humor.
Glitterland is a story that’s been somewhat present in my mind these last couple of years, regularly teasing me with flashes of my favorite scenes, and a general impression of the warmth and giddiness I felt when I finished. But with this second, complete reread, it’s proven itself to be an all-time favorite. I can’t emphasize enough how uniquely brilliant it is, though I’m sure you’re thinking I’ve gone on about it enough. This dramatic comedy is filled with unforgettable moments, as well as two of the most outstanding and real characters that exude charm and are endearingly flawed. Glitterland is a smart mix of effervescence and substantial emotionality, so it’s capable of producing moments of both aching sadness and joy. Simply, I recommend this read to anyone who loves a satisfying romance featuring remarkable writing and sparkling, exceptional characters.