REVIEW: Sailor’s Delight by Rose Lerner
Dear Rose Lerner,
What a delight it was to get your email telling me you had a new book coming out and would I like a copy for review. Of course I said yes – I’m not silly! Sailor’s Delight is a queer (male/male) romance, a novella (on the longish side) set at Rosh Hashanah in 1813.
As a gentile myself, almost all of the tradition and religious observance of the main (and POV) character, Eleazar (Elie) Benezet, was unfamiliar to me. I’ve head of the names of the holidays but had little knowledge beyond that. I know you are Jewish so I figure you know what you’re talking about.
Elie is a navy agent (another thing I’d never heard of) who manages the affairs of absent sailors using a power of attorney. For many years, he has been managing the affairs of Augustus (Augie) Brine, now a sailing master (so many things I learned about in this novella!) for the Royal Navy. Brine has been engaged to Miss Sarah Turner for some 13 years and has been awaiting his prize money from a ship he and his fellow crew members captured a few years back in order to have enough money to actually marry. Elie has the task of accounting for the prize money after a long series of legal challenges and then distributing the money to the Brine and the rest of the crew/officers. All of this information was clearly well-researched and fascinating to me.
Elie has had deep romantic feelings for Brine for as long as they’ve known each other. They’ve communicated via letters of advice and instruction back and forth over the years; clearly there’s some personal affection leaking through the text. And, on the rare occasions Brine is in Portsmouth, he rents a room from Elie’s family, where, when Elie himself is in Portsmouth (Elie moves around a bit for his job) he also stays. Over the years, Elie has looked longingly and secretly at Brine as he shaves bare-chested in the morning in the room across the hall.
Elie has also shown his affection to Brine in other ways – although Brine is unaware of it. Elie has been supplementing Brine’s income, supplying things to him a cheaper-than-cost and generally looking after him for a very long time. He’s also been somewhat dragging his feet on the prize money distribution because once the money is disbursed, Brine will marry Miss Turner and everything will change. Elie won’t be able to dream anymore of Brine miraculously returning his affections and he will be fully out of reach.
Elie has a large and loving family. Unsurprisingly in the way of families, they’ve been trying to marry him off over the years but he’s resisted. Elie has no interested in a heterosexual relationship. Although, children would be nice, he knows it’s not going to happen. He’ll be a loving uncle to his many nephews and nieces instead. He believes he’s destined to be alone. He has sexual encounters from time to time but Brine is the man he really wants – and can’t have.
The story is told entirely from Elie’s point of view so we don’t know what’s going on in Brine’s head apart from what he says to Elie directly. I’m not great at subtext and there were times some of the characters were a little too subtle for me. I was a little lost during a conversation Elie had with Sarah Turner; their conversation was a bit too opaque for me.
As Yom Kippur draws near, Elie is convicted about his behaviour to Brine – the subterfuge and the delays and resolves to distribute the prize money so that Sarah and Brine can marry before he has to return to sea. The explanation for this is deeply rooted in his religion and the depiction of it was interesting (and new) to me and very moving.
For gentiles, Sailor’s Delight is entirely accessible. I obviously cannot speak to how it will be received by Jewish readers but my suspicion is positively. For my own part, I was happy to read a historical which is different in terms of there being:
- no aristocrats
- a Jewish main character (and a large Jewish secondary cast)
- navy traditions of the time and navy agents and prize distribution and all that goes with it
Even the Portsmouth setting was unusual.
Of course, it’s a romance so the main thing I enjoyed was that part of the story. As much as I’m not great with subtle and subtext, it’s clear there is a deep connection between the two men; it is dispersed through the story a bit like smoke through a room. It’s a part of the almost all of it.
I felt for Elie when he thought to himself that he was apart from everyone else. His family because he’s gay (not that he used that term), Brine because of his dishonesty (albeit the benevolent kind) and many of his other clients because of his Jewishness – their mistrust of Jewish people and their bigotry which make Elie a “necessary evil” rather than a trusted agent, let alone friend.
I did wonder exactly how Elie and Brine’s HEA would work out (of course there is one – I don’t think that’s a spoiler to say) given Brine was heading back to sea. Elie is endlessly patient however and I saw their path forward. It’s not a novella for the impatient however (although the story is not at all ponderous) – rather, not everything is tied up in a neat little bow. But the most important parts are clear enough.
I liked Charlotte, Elie’s 16-year-old niece and her story thread and how that linked to what was happening in Elie’s life. I liked how he decided to stand for himself and what that actually looked like in the various ways.
I also liked the acceptance of Elie by his family – whether they said it out loud or not; to those who understood, he was not condemned by them for being gay.
I’d have liked a little more about Sarah – perhaps she will get her own story in due course? Who can say. Perhaps it would have been nice to get just a little more from and about Brine but the structure of the story by necessity didn’t allow for that. But maybe an epilogue from his POV would have been possible?
I liked Sailor’s Delight very much (and those who are better than I am at reading between the lines will probably enjoy it even more) – the romance was sweetly charming, the heat level (on the low/subtle side) was perfect for the story and its relatively short length did not mean there was any lack in characterisation or plot. Plus, I learned a lot, which is always a good thing.