Rating: 2.75 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel


Henry Henry is not a traditional story. There is no real plot, no character growth, no great conflict, and no resolution. It is, instead, a character study of Hal Lancaster, a twenty-three-year-old man who speaks with the weariness of a man three times his age and who is slowly and methodically destroying his life. He drinks, does cocaine, hates himself with such a weary loathing, and wanders through the world with a passive indifference. If this character does not sound interesting to you, you will not enjoy this book, because the entire thing is just … Hal.

The conceit of the book is that this is a “queer reimagining of Shakespeare’s Henriad,” mostly taking influence from Henry V. I’m saying this not because it will be a factor in my review, but because the author was attempting to say something that, in my opinion, they did not manage to convey. Henry, Hal’s father, is the focus of all of Hal’s attention. Pleasing his father, obeying his father, defying his father, enduring his father, and both resenting and accepting the fact that his father molested him when he was a child and that this toxic and damaging relationship continues even now.

Henry bemoans the fact that, as the Earl of Hereford, he has lived long enough to see the family title and estates decline. He sights and frets about how his sons will probably run through the remaining money after he’s dead and sell all the properties. He whines about how he’s going to die, waiting for Hal to come dance attendance on him so that he can bask in the attention, knowing that his son still loves him, and then — should they fall into sin with one another — he can then go to church like the good Catholic he is, confess his sins, and have it all washed away, so he can do it again and again.

Hal was a child when the abuse began and, as the eldest of six children and a people pleaser, he had no idea how to handle it. So he didn’t. And now, twenty years later, he still accepts the blame of it on his own shoulders. Hal feels he should have done something, but he didn’t, and now he thinks it’s too late, so he drinks and does drugs and is an asshole to people. Some of that changes when he finally gives Henry Percy a chance in his life.

Percy is the child Hal was measured against by his father. A boy with perfect grades, perfect looks, perfect manners, and a lot of money. Percy is good with people, charming, handsome, earnest, and kind. The two of them get along, when Hal finally gives him a good look. They share a dry humor, a sexual compatibility, a common background, and Hal even comes to think he might love Percy. So he lets him go, because loving Percy means dealing with being with Percy, welcoming him into his life. Replacing his father as his lover with someone else.

I like broken characters, I honestly do. Seeing someone shattered beneath a crushing weight, damaged by circumstance and trying to put themselves together, crawling their way out of the dark and learning to be who they are now, turning to face all the pain and suffering and telling it to fuck off … or accepting it, reshaping it, and welcoming it. Hal, however, as broken as he is, does none of this. Hal seems comfortable with his life. Comfortable doing nothing, comfortable feeling nothing, comfortable being nothing.

His ‘friends’ have lives and move beyond Hal. The only person who doesn’t is his father. So, in the end, it’s a book about nothing. There is no character arc, no growth, no change. It’s just giant character study of a person who I personally found boring. I do understand that Hal is only 23, that change is hard, and that because he is content and comfortable, he has no incentive to change … but there’s only so much time I can spend with someone sighing about how miserable they are when all they seem to want to do is keep being miserable.

The writing, especially in the first few pages, felt stiff, with so many sentences the same length, only rarely broken by a longer sentence. I didn’t enjoy it and struggled to make myself continue, but the next few chapters relaxed and, by the end, the book was readable. There were moments where the dry wit landed and some banter actually made me snort — but in the whole book, there were only four of those exchanges, and that isn’t enough to make up for how much I had to force myself to read the rest of it.

This is a solid pass on every level. However, if you’re a fan of this author’s work or just want to give the book a try, I do suggest reading a sample first. Hal’s voice and character do not change from chapter one to the last chapter, and what you see is going to be what you get. Should you pick this book up, I hope you enjoy it more than I did.