After dancing around each other and their mutual connection, Eric and Lorcan share their first kiss on the night before Eric leaves Dublin to work in Canada for three months. While Eric is away, the two men regularly Skype and phone one another and though Eric and Lorcan are unsure where their relationship will stand when Eric returns, they both hope they will pick up where they left off.
As it happens, Eric and Lorcan realize the spark still exists between them and on Eric’s first night back in Dublin, the men end up in the same bed. When Eric introduces Lorcan to his family the next day as his “boyfriend,” Lorcan is pleased but also reticent. He has never had a boyfriend before and has a very different relationship with his own family.
The romance between the two men develops naturally, but with the Irish referendum on marriage equality looming and Lorcan becoming heavily involved with the Yes campaign, the question is whether he can reconcile himself with the issues he has with his parents and learn to navigate his new relationship at the same time.
Equality is the second book in Helena Stone’s Dublin Virtues series. This could be read as a standalone, although I would recommend reading Patience first. It is in Patience where we initially meet Eric and Lorcan and have an insight into the interactions between them, preceding their kiss. For me, Equality continues Stone’s series perfectly, with familiar characters, the beautiful setting of Ireland, as well as Stone building upon series events, and not only those with Eric and Lorcan.
Stone’s characterization of the two men is fundamentally careful and because of this, we are able to react easily to their story. However, in my opinion, Lorcan is the more intense half of the couple and therefore, his narrative is the one I found more consuming. Stone’s stroke of genius is in creating two parents who have not rejected their son because of his sexuality, but who have unwillingly accepted him, though they refuse to meet any partner he may have. I definitely would have empathized with Lorcan if he had been turned away by his family, but the fact that Stone allows us to meet his parents and that they firmly express their disapproval just makes the equality message in the novel all the more poignant.
Lorcan has been reluctant to confront his parents because of his guilt over upsetting the family dynamic, but his Gran does this for him and she is probably my favorite character in the story. I loved her fierce support of Lorcan and Eric and the fact that she is unafraid to speak her mind. It is because of Gran’s clever scheming that Lorcan’s parents have an uncomfortable meeting with Eric, which is the first step towards Lorcan’s relationship with them changing.
Although in this story Lorcan appears to be on a journey of self-discovery, this would not be possible without Eric as a catalyst. The romance is obviously significant in Equality and I think that Stone is able to convey the intensity of the emotions between them, not only through their love-making, but as she balances their banter with more in-depth conversations. For me, though, Eric is too perfect a character, whereas Lorcan is passionate and flawed. It is not that I think the two do not make a good couple, just that I felt Lorcan unnecessarily becomes the guilty party, despite making very human mistakes.
I really like how Stone’s novel draws on a non-fictional event in recent Irish politics, the referendum on marriage equality. I do not think that knowing the outcome of the vote in 2015 affected my enjoyment of the novel in any way because I was involved in the fictional events. The most touching and eloquent moment in the lead up to the vote is Lorcan’s speech as part of the Yes campaign. For me, Stone is able to sum up, in just a few pages, what marriage equality means:
“We’re not asking for special treatment. All we want is to be treated the same way as you. This vote isn’t about whether or not you approve of homosexuality. It has nothing to do with raising or adopting children. All a yes vote would ensure is that we will be a little less separate from the rest pf society. We just want to be equal. Nothing is going to change for you. Your marriages will still be as good or as bad as they are right now – your weddings still as lavish or as simple as you want them to be. Voting yes won’t cost you anything and will give so very much.”
In our modern world, where same-sex marriage is still not legal everywhere, Stone’s Equality carries a strong and important message, which speaks to everyone, regardless of sexuality. In my opinion, this is worth more than the portrayal of Eric and Lorcan and their romance, although Stone appears to be one of those authors who can achieve it all! Equality is a definite recommendation from me!