A.B. Gayle's Reviews > Hourglass

Hourglass by Jane Davitt
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it was amazing
bookshelves: glbt-romance, humor, favourites

Have you ever picked up a book, started reading it and gone WTF? Hourglass did that for me.
I bought it purely because I love Jane Davitt's writing (possibly the ones she writes by herself more than the ones with Alexa). I didn't read the blurb first and found Ben - the guy whose POV the first chapter is written in - frankly obnoxious. Then Samantha his daughter arrived on the scene....
Now, I'm not one to stop reading because of unlikeable characters and have even rated books higher if the author can sell me a story where the main protagonists are less than perfect (Bad Company), but when I first picked up "Hourglass", it didn't grab me.
Maybe I wasn't in the mood.
I left it in my Mobipocket reader library along with all my other unread stories. Over the next few weeks, other purchases came and went as I read through them quickly, but still Hourglass remained. The weird thing was that my reader for some reason uses one cover as a default, so out of, say, thirty books, half may have one illustration. Every time I opened my reader the multiple images of an hourglass grabbed my attention. It was almost as if the book was yelling at me to read the damn thing.
Finally, I succumbed and am bloody glad I did.
There are only a couple of writers whose work resonates with me as being "original". Other readers may not see them that way, but something in their books or their characters jumps out as "different" and enjoyable, mainly because of that difference. Syd McGinley's Dr Fell and Jay Lygon "Chaos Magic" books fall firmly into that category. Interestingly they are also published by Torquere Press.
At this point of writing, I'm half way through Hourglass and dreading that Kate Mc's review of (Brilliant first half, shame about the rest) remark is correct.
So far so good. Now that I have the hang of what is going on, I'm enjoying the structure. The characters and their romance is one level, but the underlying circumstances with the real life parallels to shows like Torchwood and the little digs at the movie industry and the workers in it are worth reading for their own sake.
Ben is growing on me and even the presence of the daughter is not an eye-rolling diversion.
In fact, seeing the couple from Ben's POV adds another dimension to the story. The cynical onlooker. A device that Take My Picture could have used (see my review).

Reading on......
Part of the "problem" people have with the book is the amount of "telling" versus "showing" there is, particularly bits from Ben's POV where we gets lines like this:
The read-through a week earlier had been a disaster. Morden and Simons had sat as far apart as was humanly possible at a round table and said their lines to each other with an icy politeness that robbed them of meaning, or a bored mumble. Sure, no one expected a cold reading to be Oscar-material, but the tension had been palpable. The only time they'd behaved like professionals was when the script called for them to talk to someone else. For those scenes, they'd taken their heads out of their asses and actually given him something resembling a glimmer of hope that this movie would be halfway watchable.
Now, in most m/m romances you would get this scene "shown", but then it would have to be in one of the character's heads, so it would have been uneven as neither would ever admit to themselves they were being pig-headed. So, by telling it from Ben's perspective, we are able to picture the scene ourselves simply because we already know the characters so well. Sure, we're not spoon-fed with it by seeing it in detail, but I can still picture everything that happens.
Perhaps that's why I'm enjoying the book so much. There is freedom for me to fill in the gaps.
Which reminds me of one of my current peeves. There is a growing fashion in romance writing for everything to be shown (and I'm not just talking graphic sex scenes, but that's one symptom of it). I think it's great if we get a good balance between the two forms of writing. Used intelligently, in the appropriate place, and then read patiently, a good tell can be just, if not more rewarding.

Anyway reading on......
By now, Ben's really growing on me.
"Son, the writers put a palomino in that scene," Ben said with his friendliest, scariest smile. "If you want to be the one to tell them that you couldn't get them what they wanted, if you want to be the one to destroy their artistic vision, just trample it to the ground, then go right ahead. They're in that little room beside the men's john."
"The broom cupboard?"
"Is that what they're calling the writers' room these days?" Ben inquired innocently. "Like the green room or something?"
"No, I think it's actually a --"
"Go away," Ben said softly, with emphasis, tiring of the game.
Pity he's straight! I might even be tempted to the dark side of m/f reading, if it was a short about him and his ex-wife, Maddy!

Two-thirds of the way through now. Still OK, still making sense. Logical relationship progression. Not too fast, not too slow.
Fucking each other once, no matter whether the earth moved or not, is not going to magically atone for ten years of having their lives fucked up. Some criticisms have been levelled at the tired old trope of the big misunderstanding being used, but that was only one aspect of their problem. They admit themselves that they weren't ready for a relationship at that stage, society was less accepting of celebrities being gay and an element of professional jealousy prevailed.
I think another reason I'm enjoying Hourglass is that the author treats her readers as people with intelligence. A rare occurrence. Take this bit for example:
If this was a movie, the script would call for him to splash water on his face, stare at his reflection in the mirror, maybe punch a wall. Ash didn't want to do any of those things, which just went to show how artificial scripts were. He sat on the toilet, with the seat down, and stared at the floor, a spotless white tile, subtly patterned with swirls and with an iridescent gleam.
I can really relate to that.

Reading on.... Ooh, something unexpected happens. This must be the spoiler that Kate deleted. Hm, not too sure what I think of this development. I can see where the author is coming from, though, making a pretty heavy statement about the right of celebrities to live their lives in peace, without papparazi or the public thinking they own them, just because they see them regularly on their little rectangular boxes in their living rooms.

Reading on....
Dramatic, but hey, the whole incident parallels the television series they starred in which almost demanded something of this magnitude. In a way, their real life resembles a movie script (more of that later).
Also, I may have commented somewhere that reading half a good book and putting it down because the rest is no good is more rewarding than reading the whole of one mediocre book. Whle this may be true, the sentiment doesn't apply in this case.
There's nothing "wrong" with the last half of Hourglass. For starters, if you did stop, you'd miss the snarky scene between Ash and Ben at the swimming pool.
Lately I've noticed that too many authors just churn out book after book, filled with repetitive chunks of their own writing or are derivative of other people's work, complete with plots you could fill in after reading the first chapter, so it's good to discover that Jane has in a number of instances deliberately skipped the clichéd turn of events, eg people recognising someone when the obvious plot move would be not to.
And as for the show vs tell debate... the point is that that the author has some great "shown" scenes in the book. But they're kept for the important sections.
At no stage did I think these two guys were chicks with dicks. At no time did their angsting, or their dialogue feel anything but right for the character.
I like it when one hero can say to the other:
"You're just one tangled mess of hang-ups and issues, you know that?"
and the remark is uttered affectionately, naturally. The sort of dialogue two men would have.
Sure, Lee's statement above about Ash was a spot on and accurate assessment of his faults. But that didn't stop him loving him, or as he so succinctly puts it later:
Let me know when you've stopped emoting and I'll finish the foreplay and get to your favorite bit."

There was a word or two here and there I would have tweaked to an alternative that might fit better. But, hey, that's me, over-refining the text until it's almost too slick to be real.
And the sex?
Despite what Lee says above, the foreplay for the last, very satisfying sex scene was the best part of it. All "shown" beautifully, dahlings.
I loved the laugh-out-loud bits of dialogue (and there are lots of those). This is a feel good, smiley book if you let it be.
Lee laughed. That was Ash all over. If he was issued a halo in heaven, he'd probably ask if it made his ears look big. "You make bed head look good, trust me."
Even the ending of the original television series is sigh-worthy.
Now for the final zinger. “Why did the author start and finish the book through the eyes of Ben?” My best explanation is that this makes the love story between Ash and Lee feel like just that, a story boxed up and presented to the reader by Ben, the producer. Although we quickly switch into feeling it is their story, we get pulled back out often enough to give the impression that we’re watching this love affair unfurl on television - complete with interruptions - while segments of the TV series, magazine articles, horoscopes, action told from another point of view are slotted in, much like television commercials.
Whether or not you think, as a reader, this is a good thing or not remains to be seen. At least in this case those “breaks in the viewing” are relevant and act almost like a Greek chorus, commenting indirectly on what’s just happened or about to happen. Removed but pertinent.
To sum up. If you’re reading m/m romances to get a quick sexual titillation, then maybe this isn’t for you. (The sex/romance is there. I can point out the page numbers if you like!) If you’re looking for your standard boy meets boy, they have a bit of conflict but get together in the end, well that’s also there but that’s not all that’s there. If you’re looking for a story about two men in love presented in a way that suits that love, then that’s there in spades.
If you’re sick of the same old, same old and despair of the standard of m/m romances, then give “Hourglass” a burl, but first lose the expectations, lose the preconceptions about how m/m romances should be written. Love the characters for who they are, enjoy watching them connect and discover that there is a relationship beyond the sex. Savor the carefully crafted touches that make this book stand out far above the crowd.
It could have been written as a straight gay romance, but by “wrapping” up a simple love story and presenting it in a box, interleaved with sheets of “tissue paper” Jane has given me, at least, an unforgettable ride of a read.
Or, in this case, in the words of Samantha who by now I liked nearly as much as her Dad:
"That was just perfect," she declared.

5.5 stars rounding down to 5.
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Reading Progress

September 10, 2011 – Started Reading
September 10, 2011 – Shelved
September 10, 2011 –
Finished Reading
September 11, 2011 –
80.0% "Sorry Kate, once again - don't agree. There's nothing wrong with the last half of the book. Love the snarky scene with Ben and Ash after he's been swimming. Some classic bits there."

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm not sure why the intro/exit with the obnoxious producer and his equally obnoxious kid. Interesting framing, for sure.

A.B. Gayle I like to think of it as being original.
It's nearly as bad as starting a story in first person POV with the guy in a relationship with another character, then doing the same time line in first person POV from yet another character and then switching to third person POV. Hey, maybe I should sub to Torquere!!!

A.B. Gayle It actually also makes it more like a book within a book, like a movie within a movie. I'll get to that in my final wrap up. Adding to my review as I read.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Heh. TQ has some interesting authors, that's for sure. Have you seen the title of Syd's latest short:

Nestor and the Burnished Poop

So tempting to find out WTF that has to do with anything. ;)

MUCH better than the blurb which sounds like standard D/s short.

message 5: by A.B. (last edited Sep 10, 2011 02:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

A.B. Gayle The daughter is there for "Save the Cat" moments for all the main characters. They can be rude, and deceitful about their feelings, hiding behind the brittle exterior they have erected to survive in the business, yet around her they have to let their true self out. They are all anti-heroes (think Hans Solo).

message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 10, 2011 02:49PM) (new)

Ben for me was an unrealized character. Lots of promise, but then not really used well in the story. I kept wanting more from him.

Not that I remember the details here, more broad brush impressions. I'll hold off the comments until you finish. :)

message 7: by A.B. (last edited Sep 10, 2011 02:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

A.B. Gayle But if there had been more he would have over-balanced the story as he is such a strong character. An alpha where the other two are gammas. In Kim Dare "pack" terms, Samantha is the beta, keeping Ash and Lee in line....

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Noooo! No werewolves. *hex signs*

A.B. Gayle Just plowed through "The Duty of a Beta" and "The Love of a Mate" (whose titles make more sense the other way with the content (the love of a beta and the duty of a mate to stick by someone) but that's another story.
I should give all her "were" books the flick, the preponderance of words that don't suit the genre "pretty, delicately" etc etc. In this case, they're more like a pack of female pussy cats except they're not bitchy enough.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

lol. Stream of consciousness review. :)

I'm definitely closer to Erin's take on this. I liked Hourglass a bit more than she did, but her review hit most of the issues that bothered me. Pacing, framing, too much narrative, the "oh come on now" moment of crisis and the drawn out ending.

Ben and Samantha are problematic characters in that they overshadow the story and are more interesting (probably because of their unrealized potential) than the two forgettable guys.

The date stamp says I read this 9 months ago. Ben and Sam are fairly clear in my mind: brash, go-getter, unsentimental producer and manipulative clever daughter. The guys have vanished except for tags: blue collar guy renovating family home, successful actor, etc.

message 11: by A.B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

A.B. Gayle Perhaps it's a mood thing and reflects more what you're looking for in a book.
Try re-reading it sometime when you're looking for something different. Take more note of what Jane's doing rather than what you want to get out of it. Perhaps that's the difference between us, I read it as a writer, you read it as a reader. I stand by my words, but am quite happy for others to see it differently. Vive la difference.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

A.B. wrote: "Perhaps it's a mood thing and reflects more what you're looking for in a book.
Try re-reading it sometime when you're looking for something different. Take more note of what Jane's doing rather tha..."

No argument. Everyone brings a different view to the table. The best books are the ones where all that comes together seamlessly. Where the person who is reading for enjoyment of the story and the person who is deconstructing how it was put together both leave with a satisfied grin.

Somewhere one of the writer/readers in the GR world of m/m said she was more tolerant of a book that had plot and pacing problems but was well written than an exciting story that was well told, but poorly written. I'm on the other side of that spectrum. I have a higher tolerance for poor craft than poor story telling. Usually. As you say, it's a matter of approach.

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