Running Press, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-7624-3685-9
Historical Romance, 2009
If you are looking for a romance that resembles EM Forster’s Maurice in terms of atmosphere and theme even a little, only with a more optimistic bent when it comes to love, you may want to give Donald L Hardy’s Lover’s Knot a closer look. I personally think Mr Hardy’s writing is on a beautiful kind of lyrical side, but I should warn you guys that his prose could seem overwrought and purple to some folks out there. Maybe you should read a few pages of this book in the bookstore before you decide whether to take it home with you.
Set in 1906, this story also contains flashback scenes that take me back to 1892. Two of Jonathan Williams’s relationships, one in 1892 and one in 1906, unfurl at the same time, as in this story, the relationship in 1892 greatly affects the one developing in 1906. Confused? Let me try to make things clear.
In 1906, Williams inherits an unexpectedly large amount of money as well as the property of Trevaglan Farm in Plymouth from his distant and much older cousin Andrew Penhyrddin. Williams spent some time in Trevaglan Farm in 1892, where as a younger man he fell for a carefree farm hand with a thing for skinny dipping, Nat Boscawen. However, that relationship ended with Nat’s death. How and why he died, along with what happened between him and Williams, will be revealed as the story progresses.
Now that he has inherited a windfall from his late cousin, Williams decides to quit his job at the bank and travel to Plymouth to start a new life. He is accompanied by his very good friend Alayne Langsford-Knight. Williams and Langsford have been platonic life buddies all this while, having formed a close if unexpected friendship since their boarding school days. Both men have fallen in love with each other without telling the other person as the years go by, and Langsford took leave from his lawyer job to follow Williams to Plymouth because he knows deep inside that Williams moving to Plymouth will change their friendship significantly. The comfortable status quo will end. Langsford would like to tell Williams he loves that man before he has to return to London.
However, there are many loose ends to be resolved in Trevaglan Farm, all of them related to Nat’s death, his bitter wife Rose who blames Williams for Nat’s death, and Alec, the son Nat had with Rose. You can imagine how Langsford feels when he learns of Nat’s existence and begins to wonder whether he is competing with a dead man for Williams’s affections.
Lover’s Knot is a romance – there is a very strong relationship element in this story and there is certainly a happy ending, if one that will be bittersweet in nature to some readers – but Mr Hardy isn’t playing by rules laid down by conventional romance formula. This results in a fabulously haunting and graceful read, with the scene where the Langsford and Williams finally break down and admit their feelings to each other have me wiping away at some tears running down my cheeks. Williams can be tad melodramatic and whiny when he is with Nat, but that’s okay, he’s a younger man when he’s with Nat. With Langsford, he is more guarded with his feelings, which makes it so beautiful when he finally breaks down. Langsford is the epitome of the cheerful and easy-going fellow that everyone likes, but there is nothing fluffy or lightweight when it comes to his feelings for Williams. If you love stories where the popular jock is devoted to the gentle and more quiet fellow despite the odds, I think you are going to love the pairing of these two men.
Speaking of which, just what is with the horse-faced men on the cover? Talk about ruining my mood with the faces of those two “Mommy, is my daddy a horse?” fellows.
Anyway, back to the story. I also have a wonderful time reading this book because the pacing never relents and the lush atmosphere is fantastic. Mr Hardy’s prose allows the setting to come alive most vibrantly and for a long time, I feel as if I’ve been transported to a fabulous new world where handsome and proper young men engage in such divine romantic sodomy in the name of love.
I don’t want to spoil the story, so let me just say that I find nothing predictable or contrived or formulaic in this story because I’m so completely absorbed in the story that I forget to nitpick along the way. I just go with the flow, enjoying the unexpected twist (the title of this story is actually closely related to the plot, as you will soon learn if you read this book) and loving every minute of how Mr Hardy makes me feel with his story. Nat and Williams have a more carnal relationship, but it is Langsford and Williams’s comparatively tamer relationship that feels more erotic to me due to the tumultuous emotions these two men end up drawing forth from each other.
With apologies to Leonard Cohen, in Lover’s Knot, there’s a blaze of light in every word, and it seems as if every breath I drew while turning the pages was a hallelujah. Fabulous job, Mr Hardy, absolutely fabulous job, and I cannot wait for the encore.