Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

Rating: 8/10 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 
Title: Tigerland
Author: Sean Kennedy
Genre: m/m, gay romance, contemporary
URL: Dreamspinner Press
Price: US$6.99/$17.99
Other Information/warnings: weaponised sarcasm
Summary [from the publisher]:
After an eventful and sometimes uncomfortably public courtship, Simon Murray and Declan Tyler settled into a comfortable life together. Now retired from the AFL, Declan works as a football commentator; Simon develops programs with queer content for a community television station.

Despite their public professional lives, Simon and Declan manage to keep their private life out of the spotlight. Their major concerns revolve around supporting their friends through infertility and relationship problems—until Greg Heyward, Declan’s ex-partner, outs himself in a transparent bid for attention.

Though Simon and Declan are furious with Greg and his media antics, they can’t agree on what to do about it. Declan insists they should maintain a dignified silence, but both he and Simon keep getting drawn into Heyward’s games. Simon and Declan will once again have to ride out the media storm before they can return their attention to what really matters: each other.

My review:
[Disclaimer: the author is a good friend, and sent me this book as a gift. Also, I hate Dreamspinner Press with the fire of a thousand suns.]

Sean Kennedy’s previous book, Tigers and Devils,was an enjoyable, often witty romance between Declan Tyler, AFL (that’s Aussie Rules football to you foreigners) god, and Simon Murray, film festival organiser and smartarse. In this installment, both men have moved up in their careers, and on in their emotional relationship, being settled and happy in Declan’s posh apartment.

This book is in someways less enjoyable in an purely romantic sense, and more enjoyable because it’s much meatier regarding emotional issues and the difficulties facing a gay couple in modern day Australia. It’s bad enough that Declan is a celebrity, with all the lack of privacy and tabloid intrusion that brings in our society – but as an out gay ex-footballer, press excitement reaches levels that even dogs can’t hear when his ex – also a footballer – comes out, and brands Simon a homewrecker. The way Sean portrays the collusion between press and publicists makes for uncomfortable, realistic reading.

But Declan and Simon are fictional. As yet, we haven’t been treated to this behaviour over gay footballers in Australia. The rest of it? All too real. The tasteless speculation about their love lives? The inability to marry and being forced to watch friends go through what they personally can’t have?  The many ways gay men and women are subjected to casual bigotry by strangers and non-strangers alike? Kennedy weaves these issues into his narrative with a verve and integrity I have rarely encountered in an m/m novel. The pain, the anger at the unfairness, the sorrow at being treated as ‘other’ because of who gay people love, are beautifully, powerfully written. As is that issue for both gay and straight people – how to create a family when biology doesn’t cooperate.

As in the first book, there is a good deal of sharp humour and observation from that sarcastic pessimist, Simon Murray. I found wry laughter forced from me many times by clever lines. Simon’s dry take on things, and his at times self-consciously hysterical approach to problems, leavens what could be a very angsty story. The opening chapter is priceless in that regard. I believe Sean Kennedy is one of the wittiest writers in the current m/m scene – which sadly sets a low bar, but it’s meant as an honest compliment.

Declan and Simon have moved on and grown up. Declan in particular has learned how to handle emotional crises much better than in the first book. Strangely, however, despite Simon’s at times frustratingly (still) immature approach to problems of the heart, it’s Declan who comes off as less credible. I have no difficulty believing Aussie men can be voluble – I read this book while a gang of tree fellers stood in my yard and talked on top note for nearly two hours as they worked. I have a lot more difficulty believing the heart to hearts between Simon and Declan that are a prominent feature of this book as in the previous one. The dialogue between Simon and his friends is a lot more believable, and that Declan and Abe would find it easier to talk while drinking a beer or eight is very credible. I just think Aussie men have a problem talking about emotional issues while sober.

My other problem with the book, apart from some odd content editing (line editing is very good), is the use of info dumps. I appreciate there was a lot of catching up to do between books, but I don’t think the way the author approached it worked particularly well. It slowed things down and came across as flat. Generally, however, the pacing is decent and the writing smooth.

If you liked Tigers and Devils, this is a must read, and an enjoyable one. If you haven’t read the first book, this one will not work, because knowing how Declan and Simon got to where they are, is essential – as is understanding their relationship with their families and their best friends. I’m rating this one higher than the first because I think the way the author uses his narrative to make sharp and well-deserved criticisms of the current situation in Australia (and elsewhere) on gay rights, is deftly and honestly done. But both books are fun, and if you know Melbourne, will give you even more enjoyment. If you like smart mouthed men, you’ll love Simon. If you like guys with heart and bravery, then Declan is for you.