Review: ‘Beautiful Losers’ (Remittance Girl)

'Beautiful Losers' by Remittance GirlBeing, as Molly Moore put it, “a fully paid up member of the Remittance Girl fan-club” I was excited from the moment I heard that there would be another of her novels in the world come December 2012. But when I linked up the title, ‘Beautiful Losers’, with a series of podcasts I listened to the year before, I have to admit I was surprised. The unfinished serial that I heard in 2011 was something of a departure for Remittance Girl, and I had always assumed it was for this reason that the project hadn’t been finished. So learning that it was not only being completed but also published in one Kindle-bound edition was highly unexpected.

And really, for those of us who have nurtured our love for Remittance Girl through novellas such as ‘Gaijin’ and ‘The Waiting Room’, and on short stories like ‘Click’ and ‘Pleasure’s Apprentice’ (the first story of hers I ever read), there is no denying that ‘Beautiful Losers’ is a departure. She has written pieces before that may be comparable in tone – the quickly written series ‘The Lepidopterists’ springs to mind – but really ‘Beautiful Losers’ seems to deal with a far less, for lack of a better word, mature set of characters than I usually expect from her. Her heroes and heroines often find themselves in emotional turmoil, but it tends to be over more immediate and more dramatic subjects, such as knife play or rape, whereas in ‘Beautiful Losers’ the reader is presented with a situation which may not be everyday, but is likely to be more familiar – and, perhaps, more desired – within our reality.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. ‘Beautiful Losers’ is the tale of two men – Sebastian and Jean – who bring, or attempt to bring, a single girl, Shira, into their relationship. Written from Shira’s point of view, the reader is taken through a series of emotional and sexual challenges as she delves into this new and somewhat unusual relationship.

In this excerpt, Shira joins Jean and Sebastian for breakfast after leaving Jean’s house, early, the morning after the three have first spent the night together:

It was called the Elbow Room because there was so little of it. Saturday mornings were almost impossible. You had to know someone who worked there to get a seat. Jean did: he was the food critic for the trendiest ‘what’s on’ magazine in town. His devoted readers had no idea who he was, or what he looked like. With Jean as the faceless master of culinary prose, I had made a number of off-colour jokes about the title of his weekly column, ‘Eating Out’.

Jean and Sebastian were perched on the chrome stools at the fifties-style counter with one empty seat between them. I handed my coat to a snippy waitress and made my way over.

‘Hi’ I said, hesitantly.

Jean glowered at me. ‘Sit down. We’re just an eensy-weensy bit upset with you right now. So just sit down.’

I did. Somehow, his bad temper made me feel better. Perhaps things were getting back to normal.

Or perhaps not. Jean snaked his hand into my lap and clasped it under the counter. ‘Why didn’t you wake us up, Shira?’

‘Give her a break. She was suffering from angst.’ Sebastian looked at me, dabbed the corners of his mouth with a napkin and smirked. ‘Isn’t that right, girl?’ he asked. After wiping his hands meticulously, he put the serviette down, grabbed my face in both hands and kissed me loudly, right next to my ear. ‘I told you I’d respect you in the morning, you luscious slut,’ he whispered, before swiping my cheek with the tip of his tongue.

This was a familiar sort of banter; it meant nothing. I tried to put on my most detached smile, but I know I didn’t manage it.

This may seem like an unusual excerpt for me to choose considering this is a novel situated, quite rightly, in the ‘erotic fiction’ genre, but anyone who has read Remittance Girl’s work before will know that she can write sex, and I do not need to show you just how well she does it. (For anyone who hasn’t read her work before, there is a plethora of stories for you to read here.) So I decided to find a section which displayed Shira’s narrative voice and the interaction between the characters. And really, this is where most of my struggles with the novel lie. The thing is, I have come to love, from Remittance Girl, a darker set of characters than these three, and phrases like “We’re just an eensy-weensy bit upset with you right now” do jar somewhat with my expectations. Furthermore, because Shira is our narrator, these kinds of playfully trivial phrases are littered through the text, not just confined to the dialogue. There is something, again for lack of a better word, immature about the characters and their interaction when I consider the novel within the context of Remittance Girl’s other work. Overall, it simply seems less eloquent.

But here’s why I struggled: although – I think! – the ages of the three protagonists are never made explicit, through their interactions and personalities I quickly drew them in my mind as being in their twenties. (Perhaps other readers will see them differently, but that’s where they sat in my imagination.) Given their youthfulness, the immaturity of the language seems entirely appropriate. We are seeing this situation through Shira’s inexperienced eyes, and for all my pondering over tone, I cannot deny that her voice is exactly as it should be. In fact I would describe this as a character-driven novel, and all three characters are impeccably drawn. I can find no fault, with their attitudes or tone of voice in the context of the story. Furthermore, through the course of the novel Shira, Jean and Sebastian encounter a series of struggles (over Shira’s emotional difficulty with being part of a threesome, and Jean’s hesitancy about anal sex, amongst other things) and as they move through these difficulties, the characters remain intact. What I mean is that whereas in other novels, characters are often thrown from their course and their own personalities by the things that happen to them, here they react and progress exactly as they should, and in precisely the ways we may observe in the real world. Okay, yes, there is something unusual and perhaps even a little wish-fulfillment-esque about Sebastian’s extreme wealth and the freedom that affords them, but this didn’t really bother me as it was incorporated seamlessly into the body of the story.

Nevertheless, and perhaps this is simply a reflection of my own preferences, whilst I was in the midst of the action, I didn’t feel as rapt as I did when I was reading (for example) ‘Gaijin’, because the characters weren’t dealing with a situation as dramatic or difficult as the protagonist in ‘Gaijin’. Every now and then there was a small part of me that wished Shira could just come to terms with the situation and fully give herself to the pleasure of being in a relationship with two men. Equally, there were moments when I felt that Sebastian slipped into the slightly unrealistic; that is not to say he ever dropped his attitude or character, but simply that I found some moments less believable than others.

However, without giving anything away, I do need to take a moment to discuss the end of the novel. Endings can be extraordinarily difficult to write, especially when it comes to novel-length fiction, and it is very rare that the end of a story will change how I feel about the story as a whole. But the ending of ‘Beautiful Losers’ did. The events that close the novel, whilst not wholly unexpected, do change the situation dramatically, and it was the way in which Shira reacted and dealt with this shift that really brought home for me how exquisitely these characters are drawn. For me, the characters found their redemption in this ending by reacting with quiet, but honest emotion. And that really was striking to read.

‘Beautiful Losers’ is an extremely well written novel, and it may be that any reservations I have about the tone of Shira’s voice and her interactions with Jean and Sebastian are wholly subjective, and based on my own preconceptions; but truthfully I doubt this will be a novel that I revisit in the way I have revisited Remittance Girl’s other work. It simply doesn’t speak to me on the level that ‘Gaijin’ or ‘The Waiting Room’ do. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that I am only comparing ‘Beautiful Losers’ with Remittance Girl’s other work; if I consider it in the wider canon of erotic fiction, it is something of a masterpiece. Remittance Girl is an exceptional writer, and for anyone who can find a deeper affinity with Shira, Jean and Sebastian I would expect this novel to have a far more profound effect.

Although not without its flaw, ‘Beautiful Losers’ is a heart-rending portrait of three people trying to navigate the difficulties of an alternative relationship. And, if I’m honest, I didn’t really want to put it down.

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Beautiful Losers’ is currently available as an ebook from Amazon UK and Amazon US. If you would like to read more of Remittance Girl’s work, you can do so on her site: remittancegirl dot com.

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