Rating: 4.75 stars
Declan Tyler and Simon Murray hope that the drama of the past couple of years is finally behind them, leaving them to enjoy their lives finally settled and happy. When Declan Tyler retired from the AFL, it was terribly hard on him but he returned to the sport as a commentator and seems happy. Simon has moved on from his job coordinating the movie festival and now works as a producer for the Queer Sports cable show. Then Greg Heyward, Declan’s closeted ex decides to retire and come out of the closet. In the past Greg has brought Declan and Simon nothing but pain and problems and this is no different. Greg is determined to stay in the spotlight one way or the other and dragging Declan back into the drama with him is one way to accomplish his goals.
But Declan wants to rise above Greg’s tactics, even when Greg starts spreading lies to the press about his relationship with Declan and the reasons they split up, hurting Simon in the process. Simon wants Declan to stand up to Greg, not only for himself but for their relationship. Unfortunately the silent treatment that Declan is using only goads Greg on to greater lies and more public exposure for the couple. And that starts to upset their relationship, leading to arguments and misunderstandings that horrify their friends and families. Will the adversity they face strengthen their relationship, deepening their commitment to each other or will the stress and strain force them apart as it did in the past.
Tigerland is the long awaited sequel to Tigers and Devils, published in 2009, and it lives up to all my expectations. I loved the original novel Tigers and Devils which introduced us to Declan Tyler, renown footballer and Simon Murray, who works at the Melbourne film festival. From the moment they meet at Fran and Roger’s party (Simon’s friends), the two men clash, miscommunicate, come together, part and reunite while conducting a romance that melts your heart. Declan and Simon were two lively wonderful characters that grabbed onto the reader and never let go, even after over 300 pages. So having a chance to catch up with them again made my heart beat a little faster, even with the idea of more Australian Rules football, which as an American I never quite grasped. Team loyalty to the extreme, check. Understood that completely while letting some of the totally Australian bits fly over my head. The other elements of the story that were grounded in Melbourne were delightful and made me want to fly down under immediately.
Now we pick up their story a year or so later, and the same qualities that made me love Tigers and Devils are front and center once more. Sean Kennedy’s characters still leap off the pages, full of life and dealing with all the problems that comes with commitment to another person, and close proximity to family and friends. All the people we grew to love from Roger and Fran (Simon’s friends) and Abe and Lisa (Declan’s friends), and all the family either could want are back again. After everything that occurred in the first novel, Simon and Declan have settled into living with each other and their relationship has grown much stronger. Both men have changed professions and while Declan is no longer on the playing field, he is still very much a part of the game as a well known commentator, a fact that helps provoke Greg’s schemes to remain in the spotlight by pulling Declan into a media blitz with him. Greg Heyward is a character we are also familiar with from the pain he caused Declan in the first story and his appearance here threatens all the hard won stability of Simon and Declan’s current status.
From event to event, Sean Kennedy clearly understands couple dynamics and let us see the stress and strain that Declan is putting on Simon with his refusal to publicly repudiate Greg’s claims about Simon and their relationship while still playing football. There is never any doubt that these two men love each other and that their established partnership is one of respect, passion and a love that has grown deeper over the years. But even the strongest bonds can be tested and we watch as Simon and Declan deal realistically with the onslaught of public attention and lives returned to intense media scrutiny. Kennedy gets is all so right that Tigerland has superseded Tigers and Devils in my affections, something I never would have predicted happening.
Simon remains one of my all time favorite contemporary characters. I love his intelligence, his sense of humor and his unwavering loyalty both to his man and his football team. Simon is such a multidimensional persona that he had to have a partner of equal strength to be his match and Declan is certainly that for him. When Declan makes the decision not to “sink to Greg’s level of behavior”, he makes it without consulting Simon, and the aftermath of that poor decision reverberates throughout the story to the point that the reader becomes very frustrated that Declan is not listening to Simon when he tells Declan that he tactic is not working for him. But never fear, Declan more than redeems his actions in the end and in a manner totally in keeping with his personality and his respect for his partner. I just loved this.
There is, however, one part of Australian culture I was not familiar with and quite frankly shocked by. According to Sean Kennedy, when a couple gets married, it is law that the following words, well Sean Kennedy put it the best:
“But then the celebrant said those words which are like a knife in the heart to any queer person attending a marriage ceremony: Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. To the exclusion of all others.”
I can’t imagine that a ceremony binding two people together is used officially to remind the GLBTQ community that they are not equal and their bonds will never have the status of those automatically given to a heterosexual couple. I guess in a time when even the terms man and wife are no longer commonly used, and more countries are legalizing gay marriage, I am surprised that Australia would continue to institutionalize inequality in such a hurtful manner. I was and still am shocked by this knowledge as I thought Australia more progressive than that. I can only hope that as Maryland prepares to vote in the upcoming election that all the polls are correct and Maryland will become the next state to legalize Marriage Equality. Next Maryland, then the USA, and perhaps more will follow the countries that came before. Kudos for them, prayers for us, and hope for all others that exclusion will be a thing of the past.
At any rate, if you loved Tigers and Devils, pick this one up immediately. If you are unfamiliar with the series, start from the beginning with the first book and then go on to this one. I am not sure if there will be another. If not I am more than content with this latest visit to a couple I have never forgotten.
Cover: Catt Ford did the wonderful cover art for Tigerland. I loved it.