It took Alfie Bell a while to figure himself out and at 28, he has just come out. Although it didn’t go quite as planned, Alfie is good now. Yep, life is good for Alfie. He has a great job, friends, and a London address. But if he looks too closely, he might see that he doesn’t completely fit into his life, but going back to his old neighborhood doesn’t fit either. What Alfie hopes will fit is the gorgeous guy sitting at the bar. The guy that Alfie doesn’t recognize, but should.
Fen can hardly believe that Alfie Bell is hitting on him. The same Alfie that made his school years unbearable with constant bullying. In between attacks, Fen often dreamed of what it would be like if Alfie were to touch him with tenderness and now he has that chance. But after one night, Fen seriously reconsiders what he’s doing and can’t get away from Alfie fast enough. Fen has too much going on anyway trying to run his mother’s business to let Alfie have any more of his time, but when old wounds are ripped open, Alfie and Fen must come to terms with their entwined past to ease into the future.
I’ve read a few books by Alexis Hall and they’ve all been a solid good for me. With that, I had certain expectations already in place for Pansies, but this book completely took my expectations and turned them around and delivered so much more. There was a depth with this book that came from a different place than I was expecting, there was dry, witty humor that was on point, and there were two characters with dialogue that was entirely relatable to me on a level that was intriguing.
Hall takes a set up that is not entirely uncommon of the guy that was bullied falling for the bully himself, but layers in true emotion and introspection. We first meet Alfie as he has come out to certain family members in a way that was a little more public than he had planned. On the outside, Alfie seems to have everything he thought he wanted with his high paying job, the London address, and the fancy car. He’s good at his job and has worked hard, but maybe it’s not all that he is or all that he wants. He never had any reason to look at or feel remorse for anything he’s done, especially during his teen years when he claimed he was just a kid, but then so was Fen.
Fen has the kind of pain that he’s learned to live with. The kind of pain that is buried so deep he can forget about it sometimes, but it’s fused to his soul so he still lives and breathes it everyday as it is truly a part of him. When he sees Alfie again, without warning, that wound is ripped open and shakes him to his core.
When Alfie and Fen hook up, Fen thinks he knows what he’s doing as he wants to humiliate Alfie and he wants to use him, but Fen doesn’t work that way and it comes back around on him. The entire experience takes on a life of its own for Fen and the raw honesty of it leaves him splayed open in ways he wasn’t ready for. Yet with all of that, Hall writes a vulnerable and intimate scene that is quite lovely.
Fen is just as complicated as Alfie from completely the other side of the issue. He never fit in and Alfie was the only one that paid any kind attention to him. Although Alfie was cruel, Fen was convinced he was in love with him and longed for a gentler and kinder attention. Fen has returned to his hometown to care for his mother’s flower shop and he misses her terribly. Although a good portion of the book is told through Alfie, we get intimate insight into Fen from the letters he writes his mother and then simply from how Alfie sees him. Alfie finds him gorgeous and bright, wild and free, yet scared and caged all at the same time. While Fen may truly be alone, Alfie finds himself alone in a crowd and for the first time, Alfie really and truly sees Fen. Alfie has a whole lot to make up for and although he has his own struggles, Fen is not going to make it easy. Yet, for all that they have to get through the book is perfectly balanced between their past and the present.
The writing in this book spoke to me on a level few books have and as I read my eyes would trace and retrace the words to see how they were put together and what made them so special. It was magical in ways not often seen and highlights the true gift of the writer. I would encourage everyone to spend time with Alfie and Fen as Hall pens a witty, insightful, vulnerable narrative of a redemptive love story that is truly worthy of your time.