I was so wonderfully given the opportunity to read this book through an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review! Cheers, NetGalley!
Something Beautiful is a novel about two friends, Cordelia and Declan, who had known each other since they were three, and following them through years of their lives together, as Cordelia struggles with mental illness and Declan comes to terms with his sexuality.
It’s very much a novel driven by issues
Not just LGBT+ issues. Losing friends through distance, navigating turning from friends to lovers, careers, loss, grief – Something Beautiful covers all of these.
I felt the delivery came with mixed results, however. The writing was good, it told the story in a very easy to read and compelling manner, and it was always emphasising the emotions of the characters and their inner thoughts. The dialogue was nice, too, and went a long way to building character.
I wish the novel was 150 pages longer, though. I feel it could have benefitted from some breathing space between covering all the major events of ~38 years of Declan and Cordelia’s life. The introduction of Cordelia’s mental illness felt very abrupt, and almost as abruptly left the story at a certain point as well. This novel has some pretty dramatic stuff go down in ~200 pages, and at points I wished there was more space in between to both break up these emotional points, and flesh out the world and lives of these characters more.
There were also points where I felt the novel veered from a nuanced portrayal of these issues to a ham-fisted, near-preachy attitude – this mostly came from Cordelia, I noticed.
The LGBT+ issues this novel touched upon, unfortunately, left me unsatisfied
I had a mixed response. I identify as bisexual, I’ve been engaging with LGBT+/queer stories for years. My textual reading habits and personal experiences tell me this novel was portraying the life and relationship of a bisexual man. I was expecting a novel that would explore what it means to be a bisexual individual in an opposite-sex relationship – and it certainly did. There’s a lot to unpack in that situation, with a distinct set of issues to tackle, and it’s something you don’t see in mainstream LGBT+ stories. The opportunity to see these issues explored was what made me interested in reading this in the first place.
However, when it came to articulating this, the focus was placed on what Declan called the ‘complexity of my fluid sexuality’.
Which… it is valid, sure. There are individuals who reject labels, or choose broader umbrella terms like queer, as Declan does at one point. But the ‘No Bisexuals’ trope is very prevalent in fiction – where characters who exhibit bisexual behaviour or characteristics are either categorised only as ‘gay’ or ‘straight’, and almost always say they ‘don’t use labels’ or ‘just like both’. It’s a trope that, in the long term, is problematic.
To me, a bisexual woman, I was able to relate to Declan’s sexual preferences to my own experiences in my sexuality. Preferring the same sex overall, but finding certain individual opposite-sex people particularly attractive – that’s a perfectly valid form of bisexual attraction. I didn’t see anything particularly complex about it. But, that’s my reading.
The characterisation was solid, and made for a sweet story overall
Declan and Cordelia were both distinct character voices. I ended up liking Declan’s voice more. It felt more nuanced. Softer, more reasoned, yet Declan didn’t feel things any less than Cordelia. Her voice and responses always felt… very sharp and intense. Which works because of her mental health issues, but since the focus on this disappeared in the 2nd half of the novel, I mostly attribute it to the really heightened sense of drama.
I liked the characters’ vulnerabilities, and both their hesitancies and their honesty in revealing these vulnerabilities to each other – both as a result of their long-term friendship. Their relationship was very sweet, but it was also flawed and fraught with troubles – realistic.
Again, I’ll come back to wishing the novel was longer. I would have appreciated the opportunity to get to know each main character without the other. They clearly had very major things in their lives, separate from the other – Adam, their careers, Peter – but it was never given a lot of focus. It made the novel feel more bare, almost claustrophobic with the sole focus being on the relationship between these two, with the attempt to chronicle their lives. It left the novel feeling weaker than it could have been.