Some people say that most first novels are thinly-described autobiography. In this particular case, the disguise is as robust as the Emperor’s New Clothes. Justin Myers, author of the popular Guyliner blog, is probably best known for his ruthless takedowns of the Guardian’s weekly Blind Date column (an occasional guilty pleasure on a Friday afternoon). But he started out as a cataloguer of the gay dating wilderness: a mission shared by the protagonist of his first novel. Blending acerbity with vulnerability, this is a rom-com for the online dating generation, told with panache in Meyer’s distinctive voice, but it rarely convinces as a novel rather than a memoir with names changed.
When he was trying to think of a name for his dating blog, Myers hit upon ‘The Guyliner’ because he’d ‘line guys up’, date them and then blog about it. In the novel, our narrator James Brodie is the wrong side of thirty when he decides to make a bid for freedom from an increasingly unhappy long-term relationship. Stumbling into the world of online dating, he decides to make the whole wretched experience bearable by writing it up for his friends – Bella, who’s working as a nanny out in Moscow, and Angie and Richie, parents to James’s godsons. And thus his blog is born: One More Romeo, in which James catalogues his efforts to find, he hopes, the last Romeo – the one he can settle down with.
Interleaving James’s blog posts with his ‘behind the scenes’ accounts, the story follows the perils of living a private life online. I wouldn’t say it ever goes particularly deep into regions uncharted by your average rom-com, but it does make some very good points about the disconnect that you feel as a blogger. Myers was especially good on the way that you can sometimes feel you’re only doing stuff so that you can get home and write about it – and, take it from me, when you start to feel like that, it’s the moment to take a break from the blog, call a willing friend, open a large bag of chocolates and watch something extremely stupid together. But the dangers are even more pertinent when what you’re doing has the potential to define the rest of your life.
The perils (and opportunities) aren’t just romantic. Stuck in a dead-end job at a tawdry gossip mag, James dreams of more satisfying work. And, as people across the internet start taking notice of Romeo and his follower numbers soar, he hopes that something might come of it… if only he wasn’t anonymous! This success comes at a price. As the parade of hopefuls passes under the scrutiny of James’s caustic pen, he discovers that writing an eviscerating blog isn’t necessarily conducive to finding The One. Moreover, once something’s posted online, it never goes away…
Of course Myers has a way with words. That’s what makes reading his Guardian Blind Date posts so enjoyable, and his flair is on full display here. The general feel of the book is perhaps best described as Bridget Jones meets Brian Sewell. James’s snark is readily deployed at others, with some startlingly original mental images (‘I tried to imagine the pair of them having sex, but all I could visualise was two John Lewis gift cards sliding around on top of one another’), but he’s also fully aware of his own shortcomings (‘I was as vain as the next man – as long as the next man was Warren Beatty going as Beau Brummell to a costume party’). He’s a bit too sharp and self-centred to be a typical romantic lead, perhaps, but you do find yourself quietly hoping that it’ll all turn out all right in the end.
I haven’t read any of Myers’s early Guyliner posts, as I usually get happily bogged down with the Blind Date posts and am too busy squirming with glee to leave that particular corner of his site. But I’d be interested to know whether the dates he gives to James are based on those he experienced himself – whether events as well as context are modelled on his own experiences. Is anyone more familiar with the site than me?
Ultimately I suppose this felt like an extension of the Guyliner site, with names changed, rather than something fresh and original, as I was expecting. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I like Myers’s writing – I’d hardly keep going back to the Blind Date posts otherwise – but I suppose I feel that The Last Romeo could have been a little more adventurous in what it tried to do. Funny, light-hearted and good for company on a long journey, perhaps, but I just don’t think this Romeo is going to be the one for me.