In 1919 His Lordship declares that the Western Front may now be secure but the home front is still being undermined by Prime Minister Lloyd George and all his damned meddling . Only the humble gardener, Freddy has the intelligence to make money out of the new garden city full of homes fit for heroes , which is being built next to the ancestral estate. Heroic Freddy restores the family fortunes by opening the first profitable garden centre. However, His Lordship unwisely invests the family treasure in New York, just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Freddy’s fate becomes further entwined with that of this noble English family when he becomes, in succession, the passionate gay lover of two generations of its heirs and only the profits from Freddy’s garden centre save the day.
Review by Erastes
I wanted to like this novel, I really really did. I’m always excited when I find a new (to me) author of gay historical fiction, and I bought both books by Mr Heddle without hesitation. However, I found it entirely impossible to like anything about it, I’m sorry to say, and now regret the purchase of both books, because I’m sure the sequel is likely to be similar to this.
Firstly, the characters. The main protagonist, Freddy, has just returned from the Western Front and has come back to his place at a stately home as under-gardener. He catches the attention of Charles, the Lord & Ladyship’s son, a disgraced officer, who is suffering from severe shell-shock and mental problems who stages a clumsy seduction which succeeds.
Freddy, unfortunately, is a Gary-Stu of the highest type.
Gary Stu: (n.) A fanfiction term for the male version of Mary Sue. A Gary Stu refers to an original character, sometimes a Self Insert, who is more powerful than any canon character, can beat them at anything, and usually supersedes them as the story’s main character. (Dictionary of Anime Fandom)
Here’s just some of the things he can do/knows about.
Bear in mind, please, that this is 1919, he’s an under-gardener educated (probably until the age of 14) at a village school by his grandmother who still lives in his tied cottage.
He knows about the Classics
He can play chess
He can read – in fact he’s read the war poets, Oscar Wilde and, from his knowledge of the daily world, obviously the newspaper (a good one, not a rag) daily.
He can fix cars better than anyone around
He’s a dab hand at geometry
He’s conversant with world politics, and the nitty gritty of English politics.
He’s built a gym in his cellar.
He saved a relation of the King from his downed plane, crawling out into no-mans land to get him.
Because of the above, he earned the Victoria Cross.
And more and more and more. In fact, he’s entirely sickening. There is nothing he can’t do. He fixes sewers. He finds treasure. When the Lord and Ladyship go to America he offers to go with them because he has dealt with American customs officers before in the war (God knows where). He build a garden centre with no effort, and when a small obstacle lands in his path,he charms the local Mayoress and gets the entire council on his side.
Not only that but everyone who meets him falls in MADLY love with him. And it’s the universal lurve for Freddie that makes me want to smash him in the face with something painful. Everyone loves him (with one exception) and not only that, everyone knows he’s gay. Yes, this is the land of OKHomo, and boy is this the land of the tolerant. The first people told are Charles’ parents. Yes. The Lord and Lady of the manor, who not only understand but embrace the entire concept with what only can be described as glee, and there are one or two thoroughly sickening scenes where the young men are caught in flagrante delicto by her ladyship, who loves the experience, (as she fancies Freddy herself.) Then a Harley Street doctor is told who thinks it’s a Jolly Good Thing, the local doctor knows, and so on and so on.
The only person who doesn’t think it’s a good idea is the sadly neglected (by the otherwise saintly Freddy) Grandmother of Freddy himself. A old woman with no visible means of support living in Freddy’s old tied cottage who Freddy hardly bothers about other to come and tell her he’s fucking the son of the nobility. She eventually turns into a mad religious ranter.
The relationship between Charles and Freddy never strikes true. Freddy gets into it for reasons that are never really explained, as he never seems to be physically or mentally attracted to Charles and there’s some very boring sex and suddenly they both profess to be madly in love. Plus, Charles is mentally unstable, and threatens to kill himself if Freddy leaves him, at every available opportunity, forcing Freddy to stay. Charles’ parents both urge Freddy to stay–or Charles will do himself harm–and this aspect of it made me cringe.
However, even if I hadn’t cared about any of the above–it’s the writing itself that made this book a nightmare to read. More than once I thought “I can’t finish this.” The prose is clunky in the extreme, for example, almost every section of dialogue has the name of the person being spoken to within it, a device that simply dosn’t happen in real life, and in order to present (I assume) a historical provenance, the author info dumps on every single page. Nothing is mentioned that doesn’t have an Act of Parliament and a corresponding date with it, and it was so hard to read without screaming.
Then, the way Freddy acts towards the end of the book is utterly un-endearing (if anyone was endeared in the first place) – he starts an affair with a boy of 16 while he’s still “married” (yes, they got married in a faux ceremony with a ring and with a horse for a witness) to Charles and when Charles dies he shows not one iota of grief – not one after ten years – and buggers off to France with his self-proclaimed and obviously unstable fratricidal toyboy, leaving his Granny to fend for herself. Nice.
Good, I thought. In 9 years time they’ll probably both be blown up.
So, no I am sorry. I do try to find the good in any book I read, because there usually is something, even if I give it one or two stars – but this has to be the first book I can’t even mark at all. The only thing I liked was the photo on the cover, and would like to know who did it, and commission him/her to do others.