Seven years ago, during a sultry summer by a lake, Matthieu fell in love with a man fifteen years his junior. Intelligent, passionate and talented, Roman swore he wanted nothing more than to settle down with Matthieu for the rest of his life. Matthieu couldn’t let that happen. The way he saw it, Roman had too much talent to waste with a small life and small dreams. He tried to do the right thing by severing all ties with the young man who commanded his passion, hoping that one day Roman would forgive and forget him.
That was never going to happen.
Roman has always known exactly who and what he wants — who he loves. Now that he’s found Matthieu again, Roman’s willing to do anything it takes to prove it. He’ll use his body, his music, and all his wiles to show the older man that their love is as real as their passion, and that they are meant to be together. Matthieu isn’t easily convinced, but Roman isn’t easily bested. He’s never been good at taking "no" for an answer — especially when he knows his partner well enough to be sure what he really wants to say is yes, yes, yes.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is a lovely, easy going book with two bland, inoffensive characters. There is no real tension, no conflict, and no real development either. The two men meet when Roman is just 18. Matthieu is convinced that at 32, he’s too old for Roman and after one night together Matthieu leaves. For 7 years the two men live apart and experience their life until they find each other once again and Roman is determined they should be together and won’t take no for an answer.
The prologue is almost 20 pages and sets up the one sexual encounter between Roman and Matthieu on Roman’s 18th birthday. The two men had only known each other a week but the chemistry was there and Roman wanted Matthieu badly. This is the strongest part of the book as the two men are interesting contrasts. Roman is very confident and knows exactly what he wants while the worldlier of the two, Matthieu, is racked with indecision. The idea that Roman should experience more and live his life is not a bad one and so the reason Matthieu leaves actually makes a lot of sense.
What doesn’t make much sense is that when they reconnect seven years later, Matthieu still thinks he’s too old for Roman. Although there is a considerable age difference this doesn’t play into the story except for some false tension. It’s so clearly manipulated and contrived since there is no question the two men will get together once they meet up again. In fact they’re having sex that same day. I couldn’t quite understand why Matthieu was verbally rejecting Roman with such a weak excuse.
I also could never get a handle on Roman’s character. He’s a musician so music is an integral part of the story, a lyrical romance between the two on top of their connection. Yet I couldn’t understand why Roman was so in love with Matthieu and determined they should be together. It’s romantic sure that one night together leads to forever but the two had only known each other for a week seven years ago and it was a fleeting acquaintance. It didn’t quite ring true that Roman would search all over for Matthieu and be so determined to have him back.
The writing is steeped in musical allusions and offers a very ethereal quality. Since the characters never really connected much with me, I found this descriptive element to further disconnect me from the story. It feels very fey reading and in some ways lovely and charming. Yet the non-existent tension and weak connection had me wondering. I just couldn’t quite get a handle on the characters, their relationship, and even the secondary characters all felt forced and never really natural.
For whatever reason this story didn’t work for me but it feels very much like a Willa Okati story. In fact I’d have guessed the author even if I didn’t know so fans of Okati may enjoy this. There’s nothing especially wrong with it but it didn’t sing to me sadly.
3 thoughts on “By Your Side by Willa Okati”
Willa’s extremely hit or miss for me. The misses tend to be like this – sort of “Ok, but why bother writing about this?” things.
Yes that’s exactly how I feel. I mean I like some of her books but something like this feels very much like the author but I’m just like … um ok no.
I should probably wait for more reviews of her work and see what the majority think before trying.
Or just figure out who tends to have the same reaction to her books and just wait for that person to read it first… 😉