A guest review by Jenre
I’ll never forget the first time I saw him–the wild shock of black hair, the beautiful blue eyes, the full lips with that perfected pout. Such a diva, even from the beginning. I was entranced, smitten, mesmerized. He had the face of an angel, and the voice of one, too–and almost from the start I began the pattern of losing Nicholas. I was good at that–I guess I never believed I really deserved him, what he would bring to us both. What we would experience, because of him. What we could be, because of him. What I could be because of the strength and belief he had in me.
Denial denial denial.
Damn, I was good at that. But I was going to have to get good at trust and acceptance, if I wanted to keep him.
I have to admit I was nervous as I sat down to read this book. Wave had ‘announced’ I was reading and reviewing it and after that lots of people let me know that it was either one of their favourite m/m books or how much they had liked it. After that, I began to worry what would happen if I didn’t like the book or had a lukewarm response to it. Fortunately all my worries were unfounded as I loved the book. Loved it.
A Red-Tainted Silence is proof that if a book is written well it can overcome even some of my most hated things about m/m books. For example, I hate men who cry too much, I hate characters who suffer needlessly because they won’t tell anyone their troubles and I generally don’t like stories with extended flashbacks. All of these things happen in this book and yet the story swept me away to such an extent that I didn’t mind these things, even understood why the characters behaved as they did and cried so much. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The book begins with two men who are recovering in hospital. The first person narrator Brandon is a famous guitarist in what used to be a very popular band, Dream. The singer from the band and Brandon’s lover, Nick, is the other man in hospital. The two men have just recently reconciled after a split of two years but before they could begin their new life together Nick was kidnapped and held captive for several weeks. Brandon found and rescued him, but both men were badly injured in the escape, Nick especially, which is why they are now in hospital. They are just starting to think that all will be well now when it is discovered that the man who had kidnapped Nick was actually working for someone and that the pair are far from safe. Whilst in hospital, Brandon, who finds it difficult to express his feelings, decides to write his memoirs of the time when he first met Nick so that Nick can read them and understand what was happening in his head throughout the 12 years they’ve known each other. The story then alternates between the present and the past as slowly horrifying things are revealed about Brandon’s past.
Part of the reason this story worked well for me was because of the length of the book. At nearly 500 pages, it allowed me plenty of time to get to know these characters and get an understanding of their motivations. The book is very emotional and in some ways difficult to read because of that. Throughout the years that Nick and Brandon are together they suffer over and over again from things happening to them over which they seem to have no control. Every time something wonderful happens there is something bad lurking round the corner to take the shine off their relationship. I found myself feeling a wealth of emotion as I read the account of the men meeting; of them building their lives together; of Brandon’s struggle with his family after coming out and the cool relationship with his father and brother, Adam; of the exhilaration of first love; of their belief in their ability to make it as singer/songwriters. All of it combined into an experience which was both breathtaking and sometimes uncomfotable.
Another reason to like this book is in the characterisation as we are presented to two flawed, complex men who love each other deeply, but whose love also causes most harm. The main character in the story is Brandon and although we do get Nick’s point of view later in the book, it is Brandon’s story that is the main focus of the book. He’s a difficult narrator because he is so locked in a spiral of self hatred and blame, that it was sometimes hard to like him, even as I sympathised with his situation. He’s also quite emotionally unstable, like many very creative people, in that he’s prone to depression, he feels things sometimes too deeply and finds it difficult to shrug off some of the small hurts that may not affect some people. Having said that, I was thoroughly absorbed in his story and read in fascination as he allows himself to be manipulated by everyone he meets, even Nick, letting everyone think that he is happy when in fact he is just hiding his true feelings from everyone. As the story draws to a conclusion and the other people in Brandon’s life discover the truth about him, I rejoiced that finally things were going to change for Brandon now that he had allowed others to see through the armour he has cloaked himself with so effectively.
The character of Nick is easy to like. He’s charming, gregarious, and very opposite to Brandon in that he seems able to easily shrug off anything bad that has happened to him and focus on the good. Even his days in captivity are dealt with easily by him opening up to his friends and counsellor and allowing the hurt and the horror to be healed. Having said that, as the book progresses we also see that he is easily distracted and sometimes quite fickle which leads to Brandon feeling rejected and shut out at times.
As the present day story is focused mainly on the reconciliation of the heroes, we get to see them in the full blush of renewed love. This led to many tender moments between them which I found quite beautiful. This then contrasted with the deterioration of the relationship in the past and also allowed me to feel a little better about what happened in the past because I knew that no matter what they had gone through, they were together now and could start to move on from past hurts. This is the main reason why the mix of present day and flashbacks worked so well. I don’t think I could have coped with the emotional intensity if the book had followed on in a straight chronological order, it would have been too much angst, even for me.
I’ve given this book DIK status, not because it’s perfect, it isn’t. There are a few things which could have been done better. For example there is 12 years between the characters in the past and present and yet there doesn’t seem to be a change in maturity at all, their characters pretty much remain the same through the whole time and I would have liked to have seen some difference to show that the characters in the present are no longer young men of 18/19. Also, as I said, I found Brandon a little difficult to relate to and extreme in his emotions. Plus there were a few other little niggly things which are too minor really to mention. However, in my opinion, this book is a keeper. The breadth of emotion, the complexity of the characters and the sheer intensity of the book, all combine to make A Red-Tainted Silence a wonderful book which I would highly recommend.