Les Ardoises

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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.

6 thoughts on “Les Ardoises

  1. Larissa

    I was intrigued by this story until I read about the rape. While I don’t mind stories with rape, lately I’ve found that authors tend to use it as an easy plot device and I’ve also found that gah, no man seems to be able to defend himself any more :???:

    Anyways in combination with the farfetched elements you described, I’ll put this on the backburner.

    Thanks for the lovely review, you! :cooler:

    1. Feliz

      Hi Larissa,

      this story was really a great reading experience for me, particularly for its distinctive narrative voice and the realistic overall feel–up until that scene. Afterwards, it felt like things just were made up to happen so Felicien and Joel could end up together.
      What I still “liked” about the rape scene (I’m sorry, can’t come up with a better expression, there’s of course absolutely nothing to like about rape in and of itself) was the way Félicien dealt with it afterwards. He was shaken, but not broken. He didn’t allow the dreadful experience to conquer his whole life. He ran, but he still took things into his own hands, even while asking for help if he had to. I had to admire him for that.

      1. Larissa

        Well that does sound like it was handled okay. Still don’t like that rape was part of this story though :P

        I’m a bloodthirsty person. I’d love to see someone try and end up with their intestines wrapped around their neck and stomped on or something :P

        But based on what you said, I might check out other books by this author!

  2. Wave

    Feliz
    Like Larissa I’m put off by the rape because I have had a surfeit of them in M/M books – a very easy plot device. By the way the author is male – I met him at GRL. He’s a very interesting man.

    I’ll check out his backlist and see if there’s another book that takes my fancy because I really would like to read one of his stories. I might still break down and read this one as the story is different. :)

    1. Feliz

      Hi Wave,

      at least this story’s short enough for you ;-)

      I thought the author might be an interesting person. In a foreword to this story, he states that he wrote it for his French lovers (or something along these lines), so it might be at least in parts autobiographical. It felt that way, too!

      I’ve got this author’s “P’tit Cadeau” on my TBR ever since I read Victor J. Banis’s review on this site. Otherwise, as far as I know, his backlist contains mostly historicals, something I’m not very particular to.

      1. Wave

        Hey I’m reading very long novels now, or haven’t you noticed? :eek: Let me know what you think of the book after you finish it.

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