Love conquers all, especially such trivial things as monogamy and sexual orientation, in this polyamorous romance.
Life for young people in the postindustrial squalor of Swansea, Wales, is a treadmill of dead-end jobs, drinking bouts in grotty bars, and run-ins with racist skinheads, leavened only by fluid but intense housemate relationships. One such blossoms when math grad student Dom moves in with Richard, a gamer geek who works at a call center. Soon they fall madly in love, which is a bit mystifying to everyone, including them, because they remain staunch heterosexuals who never have sex even when they sleep with each other. In fact, the main way the reader knows they are in love is that they frequently hug and say, “I love you.” Dom’s girlfriend, Caroline, is miffed by this turn until Dom convinces her that he can love her and Richard at the same time, at which point, things gravitate toward a polyamorous trio reinforced by more omnidirectional hugs and I love yous. Barrett’s novel self-consciously celebrates the surmounting of gender categories and possessive attitudes that pose pointless barriers to human happiness and includes flash-forward scenes decades in the future when society—at least in Barcelona—has progressed enough to allow Dom, Richard, and Caroline to formalize their polyamorous marriage. (Indeed, gender becomes so passé that gender-neutral pronouns “zie” and “hir” are ubiquitous.) Alas, their relationship is too bland, schematic, and devoid of passion, sexual or otherwise, to really hold the reader’s interest. Fortunately, the novel surrounds the central trio with livelier characters, including Caroline’s domineering gal pal, Nomi, and gay waif Rutti, whose hilariously sardonic bitchery covers up a poignant loneliness. Barrett is a talented writer with a good feel for his rough-edged Welsh social setting and a sharp but sympathetic eye for the mores and foibles of the queer demimonde and its supporting culture of politically correct progressivism. Apart from the lackluster relationship at its core, this combination makes for a smart, entertaining read.
A contrived, uninvolving love triangle surrounded by a sprightlier comedy of modern manners.