It doesn’t happen often but it does occasionally happen that I devour a book quite literally in one sitting. Okay, I might have been on a plane when I started reading this particular one and there was really nowhere to go for a very long time, but let me assure you that only an emergency landing would have succeeded in distracting me from one of the most fascinating, engrossing, exceptionally written stories I have ever come across. From beginning to end, we are drawn into a world that is so different from our own and yet so intriguing we cannot look away, and a leading character who is so self-aware and honest that his thought process slowly becomes our own. This is a book that has the power to make our bodies overheat and turn our hearts into puddles of mush all at the same time, and it is the perfect example of how every life story, even the most unconventional ones, can turn into a splendid fairy tale.
“How could I be proud of being an escort?”
Hallen is a male escort. Pulled into a life of paid sexual services by mere chance, at twenty-one, Hallen is younger than most other men in his line of work, but his natural charisma, intelligence and ability to satisfy his clients’ wildest dreams have made him a highly sought after gigolo. Whether he is hired merely as a social companion or for his sexual prowess, his clients covet his services not only for his attractive physical attributes, but also because of his flawless professionalism and engaging personality. We watch Hallen enter this industry as a naïve young man, desperate to make ends meet, and we get to witness his entire career in broad strokes, in an almost anecdotal fashion, as he tells us of some of his most memorable clients and the lessons he has learned along the way. We see his emotional detachment from the women he is paid to sleep with, the rather clinical way he views those sexual encounters, and his growing cynicism towards relationships in general.
“That’s all I’d ever be to her—a whore paid to f*ck.”
But after almost a decade in an industry where the higher the price tag, the cheaper people are made to feel, Hallen’s increasing sense of humiliation over his clients’ perception and treatment of him has made him question his life choices and what he might have sacrificed due to those choices. And just when we start thinking that there might be no hope for our hero’s love life, a woman twenty years his senior gives him something he never thought he would get—a chance to start his life anew.
“I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, but when you look at me like that I feel as if I’ve been given a second chance.”
Laura is the first woman in Hallen’s life who wishes to know him, the first person who shows interest in who he is rather than what he looks like, who cares about what he thinks, likes, wants. A scorned divorcée and mother to two adults, Laura is not looking for a sexual companion when she hires Hallen for his services, so when they meet again after he has already walked away from his life as an escort, their relationship naturally turns into a friendship at first. Laura’s unassuming personality and obliviousness to her own appeal make her irresistible in Hallen’s eyes, but it is her steadfast support of him and his interests that makes him fall hopelessly in love with her. She fulfils him, takes his loneliness away and inspires him to want to be a better person.
“I was damaged goods, but being with her, talking to her, I felt like I could be more than the sum of my past. I prayed she’d take a chance with me.”
So, after spending most of his twenties being paid to be the embodiment of every female fantasy under the sun, to give pleasure to women and make them feel good about themselves, at twenty-eight, Hallen finds himself in uncharted waters, navigating blindly through matters of the heart, something in which he has no prior experience. His boyish infatuation with Laura is something he has never felt before as an adult, making him vulnerable and unsure of himself in light of his growing feelings for her.
“You’re a really nice person, so I get that there’s no way on earth you’d want to be with a piece of shit whore…”
And while their age-gap relationship might be their biggest obstacle in the eyes of the people around them, it is Hallen’s past as an escort and his many faceless sexual encounters that are their true hurdle, feeding every insecurity in both of them, and forcing them to take a leap of faith in order to stay together.
“I’ve had sex with hundreds of women, Laura, but I’ve only made love to one.”
This book overwhelmed me. It took my heart hostage and it did not release it until I felt every single emotion that the characters felt, every heartbreak, every doubt, every self-deprecating thought. It starts as a rather entertaining chronicle of a man’s life as a gigolo, only to realise that the account of Hallen’s past only serves to make him more three-dimensional in our eyes and to make us understand him better once Laura enters his life. A perfectly paced plotline, realistically sculpted characters, a heart-warming romance that managed to touch even the most cynical parts of me—this is a story that stayed with me for days after I finished it and even succeeded in shaking some of my most entrenched preconceptions about life, love, age.
If you’re looking for a ‘different’ kind of love story, one that doesn’t come in a neat little box with a bow on top, or even meet a given stereotype, I’d recommend this book to you in a heartbeat. It shows life in all its messiness, the ugly as well as the beautiful, and it celebrates the ageless beauty of love.
“There was nothing I wanted in this world until I met you.”