Author ~ John Wiltshire
Publisher ~ MLR Press
Published ~ 15th January 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Sometimes there is a very fine dividing line between fact and fiction.
Named after the main character in his mother's infamous Oliver novels, Ollie's been fighting his fictional namesake his whole life. It's a battle for identity he is slowly and inevitably losing. Ex-army PTI, Tom knows all about battles--the real ones that break soldiers. When he volunteers to help with the Oliver situation, Ollie hears more in the offer than Tom apparently intends, for Tom quickly informs Ollie that he's married. Which is absolutely fine, because Ollie isn't gay--that's Oliver. Tom and Ollie discover fairly swiftly that there is often a very fine dividing line between fact and fiction.
I only know of John Wiltshire’s reputation in connection with his massive More Heat Than the Sun series, the first couple of books of which are in my ‘Books by Blokes’ folder waiting to reach the top of my ‘read for pleasure’ list. So I was delighted to see Ollie Always in the list of books to review. I hope it would give me an easy introduction to Wiltshire’s writing style.
I have to say that I expect this is completely different. No dangerous black ops agents here, but Ollie, soft and sweet and very deeply screwed up by what sounds like an appalling life.
Ollie is the only child of a wildly successful author who has written a series of books about a sexually precocious child who seduces his way through a series of startling adventures. Her hero is named Oliver and poor Ollie, born at the height of her fame, has always been expected to provide her with fodder to convert into new stories. As if this wasn’t disturbing enough, the fact that he and Oliver in the books are interchangeable to his appalling mother has been well publicised so Ollie has suffered all kinds of abuse over the years. Oliver is brilliant at everything, always comes out on top, is effortlessly beautiful and has entered an ageless state where he could go on for years. Ollie, always outclassed, reluctant to admit to any kind of sexuality and aware that he is no longer as young as he was, is slipping further and further into depression. No wonder the story starts with him in self imposed exile in New Zealand trying to avoid everyone who knows him.
Enter Tom, ex-military, attractive, good humoured and everything that Ollie refuses to admit that he would love to have in a boyfriend. Tom has moved in just up the road and he and Ollie develop a close friendship based in part on proximity and partly in that they are both desperately lonely. So far so good but both of them have secrets, both of them have ‘pasts’ and neither of them have been honest. Soon this friendship that is slowly developing into love comes apart at the seams and Ollie has to put in some serious work to reclaim his own life and grown into a personality of his own.
There was so much to enjoy about this book. Nothing is particularly straight forward. Characters have loads of different pressures guiding their actions. Ollie in particular has serious flaws – he is a liar who is very manipulative – but eventually one can see how these flaws developed. Ollie isn’t always good but he is sympathetic. I pitied him enormously once I’d worked out his situation, but I have to admit that for the first chapter or so I found his self centredness quite irritating. Tom is a delight – also a bit of a liar but with equally good reason, and he is a genuinely nice guy deserving happiness. They both do and I was particularly delighted by the form of Ollie’s liberation.
I particularly enjoyed the humour:
Ollie nodded. He had emigrated, too, but wore shoes and knew where Prague was.
He’d read every book ever written, except all the boring ones.
Ollie didn’t hear a word of the conversation around him, but, as usual, this didn’t stop him from actually joining in.
And there are times when Wiltshire expresses deep truths with an economy of language that I found stunning.
This isn’t a regular contemporary romance, there’s a lot going on as Ollie claws his way out of Oliver’s shadow, but there’s a very satisfying ending that seems most appropriate for all concerned. I’ve moved Wiltshire’s other books closer to the top of the TBR list and I’m looking forward to them very much.