Nigel is a stuffy, stiff banker from London sent to examine the books of another bank in Paris. Two French colleagues prank him with a fake invitation to a notorious Paris night club where men sing and dance dressed up as women. There Nigel meets Jay, a singer, absolutely gorgeous as a woman but even more breathtaking as a man.
A single night of pleasures doesn’t prevent both men from returning to their lives, but they continue to fiercely long for one another. Jay makes a daring trip to London to see if there’s something to him and Nigel. When Nigel welcomes him with open arms and a warm bed, things do seem to be going very well indeed. But what happens when both realize they expect the other to uproot his life and chase love to another country?
For a period piece, I had my expectations about this, that either it would feel realistic or not. I’d say this tale has a bit of both, the enlightenment of contemporary stories of love and a rich touch of historical realism. I appreciated both perspectives as they seem to blend in well together, almost seamlessly.
Though a good portion of this book is devoted to sensuality, the characters felt fully developed. As the title suggests, both men have distinctly differing personalities. Nigel has lived his whole life without acknowledging who he is. He’s shy and timid, but also able to throw himself headlong into new experiences. Jay has never been willing to acquiesce to the demands of others on how he should be. He’s independent and at peace with himself, but he doesn’t realize something’s missing in his life until he begins to, well, miss Nigel.
Beyond the first introductions, I though the best part came from how the long-distance attraction was written, how both men couldn’t quite return back to their former lives. While before Nigel was restrained, private, and preferring home over the town, he starts to take hesitant steps to engage in social circles and events, like the theater and music halls, as they remind him of his lover. Jay, on the other hand, had enjoyed a life of carefree existence and casual sex, but now he feels restless and housebound, unable to find the spark for the frivolities of his past as his heart is with his lover. This subtle change in their lives shows how much that single night meant to both of them, and I appreciated how it was handled.
There isn’t much to the plot beyond these two different men learning how to be with each other in their current time and place. What Nigel goes through at the bank shows quite well how attitudes at the time, and in many ways still do, connect respectability with their work, as though what a person does in his or her private life has direct influence on their job performance. It was a mere sliver of a plot device, but it demonstrated the historical period well.
The pace is somewhat sluggish at first, since this does begin straight off the bat with an overload of sensuality. But that was understandable, since after all the story isn’t about Nigel losing his virginity but how he learns to understand and accept who he is, with necessary sacrifices along the way. The conversation Jay and Nigel have about compromises could come from any modern dialogue as well.
In short, I liked this tale a lot. We get to see the people under their facades—be they bland business suits and dolled-up frocks—and that gives this character-driven tale the required depth, purpose and meaning. The message of learning to love another as well as yourself continues to be relevant to this day. Recommended read.