Title: Les Ardoises
Author: Anel Viz
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Cover Art: Reese Dante
Amazon Link: Les Ardoises
Genre: Contemporary, Crime (police/detectives/PI), Gay, Menage, Romance, Thriller
Length: 125 pdf pages, 23240 words
Rating: 4 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This novella was something else, not exactly a romance and yet a very compelling tale of how sometimes a new (romantic) experience can be an eye-opener to a new self-awareness.
The Blurb: Félicien, a waiter at a café-bistro on the French Riviera, is picked up by an American tourist while his girlfriend is away. He’s not particularly hung up about his sexuality, and with another man there are no strings attached. Right?
Félicien works at Les Ardoises, a café-bistro in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. When his girlfriend leaves for two weeks with her family, he hooks up with Joel, an American businessman. Félicien has swung that way before, but thinks he doesn’t risk getting involved with a man as he might with a woman.
As it turns out, Joel will be around longer than a few days. He wants more than a one-night stand, and Félicien isn’t one to pass up a few days on a yacht with the handsome, sexually talented American. Before long, they’ve been seen together often enough for people to wonder about their relationship, and Félicien finds himself questioning who he is and what he wants from life.
CONTENT ADVISORIES: This title contains scenes of rape or near rape and mild BDSM.
The Review: On the surface, “Les Ardoises” is simply yet another story of a man becoming aware of and coming to terms with his homosexuality. Felicien Caporal, a waiter in a French Riviera restaurant, is quite happy with his girlfriend Corinne. Felicien had some homosexual experiences in the past, but he thinks of them as mere fooling around. Until he meets Joel Barkman, an American on a business trip to the Riviera.
Joel is older, sexually experienced, comfortable with his homosexuality and very insistent in his seduction, so much so that Felicien eventually gives in and takes the American home while Corinne is away visiting with her parents. But what was supposed to be a casual hookup becomes the turning point in Felicien’s life. Over the course of the following days, Joel teaches Felicien the real joys of gay sex up to the point that
“…Félicien understood the full meaning of sexual surrender. […] It is the same for both men and women. The man who sexually surrenders doesn’t give himself to his lover, he allows himself to be taken—allows himself, not his lover. He does not grit his teeth and endure what his lover does to him, it washes over him like a blissful wave and he absorbs it like a sponge. He becomes what he feels and lives entirely in his body, suspended in a timeless moment of heightened sensation and physical response…”
And now, Felicien is confused. Even though he loves Corinne, he’s never experienced this kind of erotic high with her. But what is this going to mean for his future life and his relationship with Corinne?
Even after Corinne comes back, Felicien can’t stop himself from craving Joel. They arrange to meet one last time before Joel will leave for home, but Joel doesn’t show. Out of defiance, Felicien agrees to go cruising the gay discos with his openly gay friend and coworker, Jules. The experience convinces Felicien that he is, in fact, gay. But before he can decide how to deal with this new awareness, things start happening very fast, and suddenly Felicien finds himself literally running for his life…
The narrative took some getting used to, it’s at times straightforward and factual, at times wise and almost lyrical, like in the quote above, but once I got into it, I really liked it. Some people claim to be able to tell from the narrative if the author is a man or a woman—I’m not sure this is always possible, but I must say, in this case the writing said “male author” to me. Not judging, just saying.
I don’t think this novella qualifies as a romance in the “boy meets boy, boy loves boy” sense, too conflicted is Felicien, even almost reluctant in his approach at exploring his homosexual tendencies with Joel. I can also see how many readers will be put off by the element of cheating (as Felicien cheats on Corinne and sleeps around on Joel). The background plot with the sudden introduction of mafia ties, corrupt policemen, rape (onpage, as stated in the publisher’s content advisory) and violence struck me as somewhat contrived and farfetched, a mere means to compel the eventual outcome.
What impressed me most about this story were things that didn’t immediately jump out at the reader, mostly the subtle way in which the character’s mindset was depicted. Felicien is a unusual character, his mindset quite different from what I’m used to from other m/m romance characters. I couldn’t tell by first-hand experience, as I’m neither a gay man nor French, but Felicien felt very authentic to me. As did the other French characters in the story. Little things, like Jules’s observations of the US Army DADT policy, Felicien’s flirtatiousness, the way how Corinne talked about her maman, even the attitude Felicien’s employer cultivated towards her customers and staff, it all added up to a harmonious whole that, combined with the setting descriptions, created a strong sense of place that helped me relate to Felicien’s motives and reactions, even if I didn’t always like what he did.
In comparison, Joel remained surprisingly pale, his role somewhat confined to being Felicien’s mentor and, eventually, his stepping stone into a new life. This was another reason why I wouldn’t call this story exactly a romance– Joel and Felicien’s connection, aside from the strong sexual attraction, didn’t feel that substantial to me, overshadowed by the outward conflict in Felicien’s life. However, this made for an appropriately open end and had me curious to meet Joel and Felicien again, to see how it all will be panning out for them.
Despite the abovementioned issues, I really liked this novella. Recommended as an overall refreshingly different, enjoyable read.