Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Book Review


Phyllida and the
Brotherhood of Philander,
A Novel

By Ann Herendeen

Publisher: HarperPaperbacks
HarperCollinsPublishers

(Release Date: April 29, 2008)





It's London, it's 1812, and on page one of this outstanding novel, we meet Andrew Carrington, a rory-tory, hunky-dory heir to a fortune, who is gay. And that's only the beginning set of circumstances that launch this debut novel by Ann Herendeen who writes about romance and history with comedic timing and the kind of dialog that makes you feel you are in the room with the characters. It's a bonus beyond hoping for that Herendeen also has a writer's sense of what makes a great love story, which she unfailingly gives to her readers throughout this entire book.

And that's what I liked most about this book: It's a great love story, beautifully written, with a sense of life and a sense of comedy that is at once exhilarating and impassioned.

Tired of the endless Regency nights of gambling and debauchery, Andrew Carrington decides he needs to find a wife who will give him an heir and thus fulfill his legacy responsibilities. Finding a wife, he discovers, is far easier than actually having a wife. The situation is ripe for a comedy of errors, combined with a faux tragedy of (too many) manners, when the prospective wife learns she must share Andrew with his boyfriend. For most, that would be a deal-breaker; not our group!

Phyllida Lewis is the spirited, pretty, talented and very poor author of romantic novels. She loves to write, and that's all she really wants to do: write. Although every mother in England is frothing at the prospect of her daughter marrying Andrew Carrington, he sees life a bit differently than most. He prefers men, and he prefers everything about them: their company, their interests, their looks, their sex appeal...all of it. Still he does not take his privileged status lightly. He feels he has a duty to produce an heir. That, typically, would involve taking a wife. Carrington figures to find a woman who needs a husband, advise her of the situation and then proceed to live his life as he wishes, not counting the baby-making process.

Phyllida has her own agenda, though, not the least of which is that she doesn't need to get married. She could spend her entire life in her ratty old robe writing pages of Gothic romance, ink-stained fingers and all. Regrettably, her mother disagrees and does all she can to pander her daughter off to anyone who will have her. That Andrew Carrington might want her silly daughter is more than Phyllida's mother could have hoped for. As readers, though, we're thrilled! This is getting delicious.

For her part, Phyllida, contemplating this most unusual marriage proposal, reviews her options. She really is fine with the boyfriend aspect of Carrington's proposal, much to his surprise, (and perhaps her own) but her single condition is that she must be allowed to continue writing---not exactly the approved pastime for the wife of an Earl.

Immediately, Carrington disabuses her of any notion that his marriage to her is to be a democracy. But, Phyllida, sensing the delicate public position a gay Earl might find himself in, proceeds to hold firm until and unless her one condition is met. Reason (and a bit of expediency) wins the day, and Andrew Carrington, reluctantly gives his permission for Phyllida to continue her writing. And then, the real fun begins!

Matthew Thornby is the boyfriend, the honorable and handsome son of a Baronet. It takes Matthew to create a bridge of understanding between Carrington and his bride. It's also Matthew who comes to the rescue, along with Carrington, in the secondary story involving the blackmail of the Brotherhood of Philander, a high-end private club for gay men in London, modeled after several clubs known to exist during this era.

Herendeen's immanently readable and rewarding writing style takes an unorthodox, romantic relationship set among three people two hundred years ago and brings the spirit of the story and the people right into one's most contemporary world. Although Andrew Carrington gets to have his wife and his boyfriend, one senses that Phyllida and Matthew are getting no less a good deal in this comically triangulated romance.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good love story. The male/male/female configuration is not my personal cup of tea, but Herendeen and her story have transcended the usual squiggly wigglies regarding genders and gender preferences with this endearing, engaging and elegantly witty romp through the lives of three people who stumble, falter and throw themselves into the mix that is Herendeen's unequalled specialty. That alone is quite a feat!
I found myself rooting for our heroes, and heroine, to get to the Happily Ever After...and I was not disappointed.

So if you're not sure if you're reading a Regency romance, a Bi-sexual Romance, a Comedy or a Novel, allow me to help you out here: Call it all of that or none of it: It's a great read!


With a debut novel this good, I do imagine we could well see "based on the book by" coming to a movie screen in your neighborhood....conjure up, if you will, a young group of actors and actresses sharing a film with the comedic elements of Shakespeare In Love meets A Fish Named Wanda meets Victor/Victoria meets What's Up Doc? meets one funeral and several weddings! Trust me, this book is tons of fun, with tons of engaging characters and tons of Ton.

t.t.thomas

Monday, April 07, 2008