Today I am excited to welcome the third of our three new reviewers starting here at Joyfully Jay, Kirsty! We are so excited to have her here and hope you will all join us in giving her a big welcome! You can check out more about Kirsty in her bio at the end of the review.
Mark Nugent’s life has always revolved around work, advising multi-million-pound companies in London on how to legally evade paying certain taxes. Yet after Mark’s 14-year-old daughter ends up in trouble at school, he decides to take a sabbatical, moving himself and Fen to Shamwell. Mark is 39 and recently divorced, finally reconciling himself to the fact that he is gay; his late admission is very much affected by Fen’s surprise birth and fear, after growing up in the 1980s when homosexuality was associated with the “gay plague.”
In an attempt to throw himself into local village life, Mark joins the gentleman only, age-restricted Spartans Fun and Funds Foundation, which is really more about drinking a pint at the pub than charitable actions! It is here that Mark meets Patrick – openly gay, wildly opinionated and stubborn, and 14 years Mark’s junior. Out! is the story of how their relationship develops, with the added complications of Mark’s disapproving ex-wife, Patrick’s skeptical mother, and Mark’s infatuated former PA.
As much as I wanted to enjoy Out!, my first book by J.L. Merrow, at times I felt that I was laboring through the story rather than happily skipping! Though I didn’t feel that this was down to missing the previous books in the Shamwell Tales series, maybe they would have acquainted me with Merrow’s direct style of writing.
Mark, Patrick, and the other characters really tell their own stories through their conversations, and I think this is one of the main reasons why I found making a connection with them difficult, despite being from the UK myself. The speech of Merrow’s characters is colloquial, though unfortunately not consistent, particularly in Patrick’s case. Reading these conversations as I would hear them spoken took work on my part, and I quickly became frustrated by the repetition of “innit,” “duh,” and “oi.”
It is the journey these characters take that really captured my interest. Mark grows into his role as a dad, with Fen playing an important part in Mark’s own self-acceptance. Leaving the safety of his closet is a difficult thing for him and we empathise with his struggle, but hope that he and Patrick can find happiness with each other.
Being a part of Mark’s life helps Patrick to mature, particularly when it comes to accepting someone else’s viewpoint. His hard-headedness could be because he has grown up trying to step out of his father’s shadow, proving himself to be moral and grounded. It is through Patrick’s talks with his mum, in which she acts as his conscience, that we gain real insight into his character.
Aside from the protagonists, Merrow fills Shamwell with other colourful individuals who all add to the humor and drama of Out!, from Lex, Patrick’s colleague; Barry, the head of the Spartans; and David, Mark’s ex-PA.
Out! is not for readers looking for heavy sex scenes, though Merrow’s story is still passionate and a little steamy in places. I do think that it will be enjoyed by readers who are familiar with Shamwell and it’s residents and those who like stories set around a realistic village community.
Kirsty is a mum, wife, author PA and prolific reader, though can easily be distracted by episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Game of Thrones. She is challenged daily by her two children – one of whom is Autistic – but tries to view each new experience as part of a learning curve. Kirsty lives in the county of Devon in the UK, right by the sea and counts herself lucky to have some supportive family members and awesome friends (though many of those live behind a laptop screen!).