Hello Darling, Are You Working? - Rupert Everett
If I never read another book with the overused endearment Darling, I'll be glad.
Another book I had high expectations for. I was so bored with this one that I didn't even finish it. Perhaps I shouldn't try to review itů but I did scan the last two pages, just to see if it got mildly interesting. It didn't. If anything, it got even sillier.
Firstly, this is not really a gay book. Sure, the main character is as queer as a straight corkscrew, but it's all such theatrical silliness (the brittle expression Darling tagged on to the end of every throwaway, life-induced-ennui line of dialogue) that you can't take it seriously at all. There's no gay sex, not even a part of the body mentioned, even though the hero decides to become a gay prostitute when he's fifteen. I say decides deliberately-product of a classic English upper-class education and stinkingly wealthy, Rhys goes against his stiff upper lip upbringing and decides that other things will allowed to become stiff instead. He descends into a life of drugs and sex until a huge stroke of luck sees him cast as the English lead in a silly American show, where he plays a butler, who treats his American employers with utter disdain.
There is a book in here somewhere. Unfortunately, it's not the one that's actually been written. We don't actually see any of Rhys's life as a prostitute (well, hardly any). We only hear in passing about his acting career. The novel is full of utterly irrelevant side-issues as Rhys, out of work and broke, flits around Paris with his equally irrelevant friends. The whole thing becomes hopelessly muddled when he takes on a job as a highly paid male escort to a group of elderly American women who want to attend a racy party in Tangiers.
It's all so frightfully dull, Darling. Sorry. Not for me at all.
This is no vanity project sold on the author's name. Rupert Everett is gorgeous and yes, he can write too. The novel follows a very English comic tradition depicting upper class shenanigans, following the likes of PG Wodehouse. It doesn't pretend to be great literature but it made me laugh. A lot.
The book comes with charming illustrations that added considerably to my enjoyment. It's light reading and very amusing, whizzing along at break-neck pace. The characters are largely stereotypes, as is the way with this genre, but I genuinely came to care for our hapless hero, Rhys Waveral, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the author.
I think the best bits deal with the vain preoccupations of an ageing down-on-his-luck actor, and the gay scene in Paris featuring Rhys' delightful friend Peach Delight. Rhys is in France living off the proceeds of an American sitcom when the Stock Market crash of '87 means dire financial circumstances oblige him to turn gigalo.
Rhys has been there before. As a 15 year-old left on his own in London for a couple of days he accidentally becomes a rent boy. Seduced by easy money and realising he's 'a bit gay', Rhys decides he's found his ideal career in prostitution. This doesn't stop him marrying childhood sweetheart, Adrienne, but the pair of them have a most unconventional relationship and she in no way cramps his style.
They'd always known Rhys was different. He was only 5 when he decided he wanted to be on the stage. At age 6 he requested a wedding dress for his birthday. By the time he was 8 however he realised he could never be a great actress when confronted with the reality of his penis.
Rhys' whole life is a bid for freedom, to escape his eccentric aristocratic family and the expectations of someone in his privileged position, and to find his sexual identity. Good looks, natural charm and an easy disposition bring some success as an actor but his heart isn't really in it. He adopts multiple personas but never really finds himself. There's a dark undercurrent to a book that on the surface is all fluff and froth. The shadow of AIDS hangs over Rhys and his friends. Profuse quantities of drugs are consumed by all and sundry, so if casual use of illegal substances isn't your thing you might want to avoid this one. There's very little actual sex, and the novel is matter-of-fact about homosexuality and male prostitution. The most disturbing sex scene is strictly het.
There's good fun to be had when Peach undertakes to occupy Rhys' father the Brigadier to stop him interfering in his plans for solvency, involving a trip to Tangiers with a party of frightful American dowagers. As it turns out Rhys' wife and family, in fact practically everyone he knows, ends up at the book's climax, a Fruit Ball. The Tangiers section drags a little and is pretty much way over-the-top. I skimmed a bit by this point. I'd have liked more on Rhys' life story (his time in LA for e.g.) and gay sub-culture. I think Rupert Everett is capable of producing something with more substance than knockabout farce.
An ideal beach read, with a bit more style than your average airport novel. Though not for everyone, if a wickedly humorous romp with a gay slant set in the milieu of the decadent English upper classes at home and abroad is your cup of tea then you'll probably enjoy this novel.
Publisher: Avon Books. ISBN: 038072152XBuy From Amazon UK HERE
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