Summary Review: A lovely approach by Clare London to the “opposites attract” theme.
Martin Harrison keeps himself to himself and his flat as neat as a new pin. His friends want him to loosen up and enjoy more of a social life, but in Martin’s mind, that’s tantamount to opening the floodgates to emotional chaos. He agrees, however, to join the flat-sitting scheme in his building. He’ll look after another tenant’s flat in exchange for a similar watch over his when he’s traveling for his work as an antiques dealer.
A floor away in the same building, Russ McNeely is happy with his life as a freelance cook and a self-confessed domestic slob. His best friend Don persuades him to join the flat-sitting scheme, both to be neighborly and to help keep his flat in order, as Russ also travels for his work.
For a while, the very dissimilar men never actually meet. Martin is horrified at the mess at Russ’ flat, while Russ finds Martin’s minimalist style creepy. But in a spirit of generosity, each of them starts to help the other out by rearranging things in their own inimitable way. Gradually, the changes extend beyond interior decoration and into the habits of the men themselves.
Until the day a hiccup in the schedule brings them face-to-face at last…
London Lads Series
Martin is an obsessive compulsive man who might as well be twice his age because of the way he acts. He lives in an apartment decorated with antique pieces of furniture which he treats as if they were his companions rather than inanimate objects, and everywhere is pristine with nothing out of place. His friend Ethan berated him continuously to go out and have fun because he had become unsociable and never went anywhere. Martin was not receptive to new experiences and did not engage with life and people, and at one point Ethan was so distressed, Martin realized that he was sincerely concerned about his state of mind so he promised grudgingly to become more involved with the other tenants in his building. Since he was frequently away on business, one way of achieving two objectives was to offer his services as an apartment sitter on an exchange basis with another tenant who also travelled a lot. He hoped that his efforts would get Ethan off his back.
Russ is Martin’s complete opposite. To say that his apartment is messy would be an over-simplification and understatement. It’s chaotic. There is no other word to describe it that would give a true picture of the state of complete disarray in which Russ lives. There was debris everywhere, the entrance was a fire hazard because it was jammed with boxes, clothing was not put away but left in baskets in the living room for weeks, and even his couch was not fit to sit on. His friend Don despaired of him ever getting a man because no one would be able to find him in the mess that was his apartment. After Don’s constant nagging Russ agreed to do something about his social life by signing on as an apartment sitter for someone like him since he was away a lot and this would be a way to kill two birds with one stone.
The first time Martin entered Russ’s apartment he was horrified. There was correspondence pinned to the wall with a fork that was used like a spear, dust was everywhere, an umbrella was in his bathroom, bedding on the couch, something stagnant in the bathroom which was actually Russ’s vat of home brewed sloe gin (that Martin threw away) and on and on. It was unbelievable to him that someone would live their life under these conditions. Russ on the other hand could not understand that Martin was as prissy and fussy as he appeared and he wanted to mess things up to make the apartment seem more lived in.
The house sitting arrangement worked for months for the guys without them meeting each other, but little by little each noticed that his house sitter was making unauthorized changes in his living space. At first it was a source of annoyance but then they began to like the new look. At one point Ethan showed up and stood in amazement because one of his pictures was on the wall in Martin’s apartment. This was his reaction:
“You’ve got one of my pictures on display. On your wall.” Ethan is making a new conversational style out of stating the obvious.
“I know,” I say, rather curtly. “The sitter put it up the other weekend. I haven’t had time to take it down.”
“You said my art made you nauseous,” Ethan says. He looks a little disorientated. No…stunned is perhaps the word. “You said the mix of colors and shape was like a particularly messy and aggressive migraine. You said that if I were looking for your professional opinion, you’d rather cut off your left arm and let the blood spatter across your clean ironing than have to face any of my work on a daily basis—”
“All right, I think you’ve made your rather torturous point.” I push past him, deliberately brusque. “I was obviously in a bad mood then. I’m sure you’d be the first to agree that any man can occasionally change his mind.”
Then one day there was a mix-up in the schedule and Martin and Russ met unexpectedly. The first thing they noticed was how different and attractive each was from what they imagined. However, neither knew if the other was gay. After the first fumbling and embarrassing “getting to know you” attempts they gradually started to have real conversations and found out that, despite appearances, they had a quite few things in common and were attracted to this new person in their lives. Could this lead to a love connection?
Clare London is gifted and skilled where it comes to characterizations, and Russ and Martin were no different to all the other wonderful characters that I have met in her books. I felt as if I knew Martin and Russ and could see beyond their foibles and personal pecularities to the people they really were. Intuitively the guys seemed to know how to approach their new friend and soon to-be lover, and they did and said all the right things to put him at ease. Their love affair was just as you would expect – a few fumbles with lots of laughs and affection. As for the loving, it was really hot once they got going. The best element in the story was that it was told in both protagonists’ first person POV which was hilarious especially Martin’s who was indignant at all the liberties that Russ was taking with the decor in his place. As for Russ’s reaction to Martin’s efforts to make his place more livable, you have to be there to enjoy the full effect. If I had one complaint it was that Martin and Russ did not spend a lot of time together and I missed seeing their relationship build slowly and jell.
How the Other Half Lives is a delightful romantic comedy delivered with Clare’s typical British wit, understated but with occasional irony and always with affection.