Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Luc O’Donnell is a mess. The son of a semi-famous rock star, he’s been involved in various messy scandals including problems with too much drinking and questionable partners.  When yet another scandalous photo of him in a compromising position appears in the tabloids, Luc’s employer, with it’s many respectable clients, insist that he clean up his act. Pronto.

Enter Oliver Blackwood, the friend of a friend who is in need of a date for an important family event. Oliver is a respected barrister from a prestigious family with a strong moral compass. It doesn’t hurt that he’s devastatingly good looking either. He and Luc have met briefly in the past and took an instant dislike to each other. However, desperate times.

And so, somewhat reluctantly and with many reservations, Luc and Oliver agree to fake date for a few weeks in Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material. At first they simply tolerate – barely – each other and view each other with a lot of suspicion. Luc is not used to a partner that looks out for him and is reliable and thoughtful and Oliver is surprised by Luc’s creativity and intelligence (which had never been on display before). Before long they become friends and then something more. But each thinks the other believes their relationship is fake and that it’ll end soon. Can they overcome the obstacles thrown in their path and see the truth?

This is a typical fake boyfriend trope that is common in romances. Boyfriend Material succeeds because of the likable characters, the devastatingly dry British wit and the funny situations they get themselves into. Hall pokes fun at the British upper class and makes several sly references to the film Notting Hill. And while this is an entertaining read, it has surprising depth too, about family and trust and acceptance. A lovely and charming book.

 

Downton Abbey Withdrawal

Blimey! The second series of Downton Abbey is over! Now what!

If you’ve fallen in love with the English period drama like millions of others, you might be feeling a little bereft right now. The good news is that Downton Abbey will be back – filming for the third series began last week. The bad news is, it’ll probably be a year before we see it on the screen. Fill your need for costume, drama and roller-coaster romances set in the bucolic English countryside with some of the following suggestions.

You might start with re-watching Downton Abbey itself; Series 1 and Series 2 are now available on DVD. The exquisite fashions and the breathtaking Highclere House (which stands in for Downton Abbey) never get old.  Or explore the characters and settings in-depth with The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes which is filled with behind-the-scenes photos and lots of insight on how the series was filmed.

Another option is to go to the original (and still maybe the best) series about the class system of the English upper class – Upstairs, Downstairs. There are many similarities between the series which both follow the entwined lives of a rich, upper-class family and their servants. The setting here is London (as opposed to North Yorkshire) and starts a few years earlier, but you’ll find the same meticulous attention to detail,  fine acting and addictive story lines. With five seasons and over 60 episodes, you can happily wallow in repressed English drama for weeks. A recent continuation of Upstairs, Downstairs, set in the late 1930s, is interesting but somehow misses the magic formula.

For a quick hit of upper class/lower class, go to Gosford Park, a theatrical release about a weekend holiday at an English country home, set in the 1930s. Like Downton Abbey, it was written by Julian Fellowes and it also stars Dame Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey)

Manor House is a reality show that plucks ordinary, modern people from their lives and transports them to a 1906 country house to play the parts of masters and servants. This is a real eye-opener on just how privileged the upper class was and how the life of a servant was filled with hard work and not much else. Fascinating.

Finally, I’d recommend the recent production of Emma. Most of Jane Austen’s heroines are forced to live in reduced circumstances, but Emma is securely ensconced in a comfortable upper class life. While the time period is 100 years earlier than Downton Abbey and the focus is on the wealthy, you’ll still find witty dialogue, beautiful homes and idyllic countryside.