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Saturday, March 6, 2010

'Tigers and Devils' by Sean KENNEDY

From the BLURB:

Football, friends, and film are the most important parts of Simon Murray's life, likely in that order. Despite being lonely, Simon is cautious about looking for more, and his best friends despair of him ever finding that special someone to share his life. Against his will, they drag him to a party, where Simon barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler -- unaware that the athlete is present and listening.

Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, Victoria, the home of Australian Rules football and Mecca for serious fans. There, players are deemed gods and treated as such - until they do something to cause them to fall out of public favour. Declan is suffering a horrendous year of injuries, and the public is taking him to task for it, so Simon's support is a bright spot in his struggles. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other's lives forever.

As Simon and Declan fumble toward building a relationship together, there is yet another obstacle in their way: keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret amidst the intrusion of well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media. They realise that nothing remains hidden forever... and they know the situation will only become more complicated when Declan's private life is revealed. Declan will be forced to make some tough choices that may result in losing either the career he loves or the man he wants. And Simon has never been known to make things easy - for himself or for others.

I absolutely adored this book. Not only is it a fantastic M/M romance, but it’s also set in my hometown of Melbourne (Australia).

Mandi (Ms. Smexy) recommended this book to me because she knows I need to feed my newfound M/M addiction. ‘Tigers and Devils’ doesn’t have any smut – absolutely no explicit sex scenes – but it is thoroughly romantic. Simon and Declan are a very sweet pairing, especially because they are total opposites. Simon is an ‘arty wanker’ who organizes Melbourne’s local independent film festival. Declan is AFL’s star football player and deep in the closet. This is such a great case of ‘opposites attract’ – Simon and Declan could not be more different, but they work because they revel in each other’s differences.

It becomes pretty clear early on in the story that the possible ‘climax’ in Declan and Simon’s relationship will come if Declan brings Simon to AFL’s coveted awards ceremony, the ‘Brownlow’. The Brownlow is AFL’s version of ‘The Oscar’s’ – the actual ceremony is very boring (basically counting scores) but the red carpet is scrutinized by the Australian media and is a very big deal in the AFL community. It’s all about who the players bring and what their WAG’s (‘wives and girlfriends’) wear (or don’t wear).

“It should be you,” Declan whispered, reading my mind.
“I don’t think I could outrun a whole auditorium of footy players if I went as your date,” I said. “You would have to leave me behind in order to save yourself.”
He shook his head. “You’re so noble.”
“You’re lucky I am. Because you look so fucking good tonight that I want to tackle you and tear you right out of that tux.”
He groaned. “Don’t start. I don’t need another reason not to go.”

I love the fact that ‘Tigers and Devils’ surprised me with regards to plot – Sean Kennedy took the story further than I predicted. After the ‘happy ending’ Kennedy examines Declan and Simon’s adjustment period and fall-out from Declan’s ‘coming out’. The second-half of the story was brilliant and made for a far more in-depth romance. And I think 'Tigers and Devils' is also a very honest story of what it's like to be homosexual in Australia. Kennedy explores family dynamics when a relative comes out of the closet - Simon's parents are only just (after 6 years) starting to feel comfortable discussing his love life with him. I also think Sean Kennedy's 'what if' scenario of a gay AFL player hits very, very close to home.
All of these 'real' issues that are discussed make 'Tigers and Devils' into a very compelling read, and elevate it above 'just another romance'.

I loved the romance, but I also loved the fact that the ‘Tigers and Devils’ is set in Melbourne. Sean Kennedy is quite clearly a Melbourne boy – he knows the city and his love is there in the details. His protagonist, Simon Murray, lives in the ‘hip’ (but not ‘yuppie’) suburb of Brunswick and there is great affection in Kennedy’s describing Melbourne’s ‘four-seasons-in-one-day’ weather. I read this while on the train, passing by all the landmarks Kennedy mentions throughout – my cityloop train terminates at the famous Flinders Street station and passes by the MCG. I don’t read enough books set in my hometown, so I got a lot of enjoyment out of ‘Tigers and Devils’ purely for the fact that I had ‘insider’ knowledge and absolutely got all of Kennedy’s local jokes and found his descriptions and musings to be spot-on.
For example, this gem of a joke;

Roger scratched at the end of his nose. “What kind of guy turns down a blowjob?” he asked, just as the barman returned with our drinks.
Not realising it was a rhetorical question, the barman answered, “No guy would.”
“You got to have standards, though. You wouldn’t just take one from anyone, right?” Roger asked him, completely forgetting he was discussing sex with a total stranger.
“Dude, I would take a blowjob from Mr. Squiggle, if it was going free.”
I shook my head. ‘That’s just sick.”
“Calling it as I see it.”

For the record, this is the children’s program character, Mr. Squiggle;

I love, love, loved ‘Tigers and Devils’. I will definitely be reading more of Sean Kennedy’s stuff, and probably re-reading ‘Tigers and Devils’ just because I love it so much.
Sean Kennedy also wrote a free online short story called 'Chicken Soup for the Soul, and all that Crap' - which is set in the 'Tigers and Devils' timeline and is very funny and sweet.


Background info:

I thought I’d contextualize a few plot points of ‘Tigers and Devils’. Just for those of you who won’t be so familiar with the ‘in’ references (Sean Kennedy is quite reference-heavy)… but also because the whole story of a gay AFL player is very intriguing (and exciting) to me, and I think it’s worth exploring.

There are 640 players in the AFL, and statistically speaking some of them must be gay or at least bisexual. But no one talks about it and there are no openly ‘out’ AFL players. But there is the occasional speculation (mostly started on chat-boards rather than the media) when a player attends the “Brownlow” awards date-less.
Back in 1995 an NRL (rugby) player by the name of Ian Roberts spoke out about his homosexuality – but no more closeted players followed suit and to this day people are left to speculate about the possibility of homosexual AFL players.

It is a very macho sport. All you have to do is log onto Australia’s two biggest newspaper websites (‘The Age’ and ‘The Herald Sun’) and you will undoubtedly find articles about player antics causing scandal for the sport. This week alone a player called Michael Hurley has appeared in court over physical assault charges – over the weekend he was drunk and attacked a taxi driver. Also this week, Brendan Fevola, a player with a history of drunken antics is in hot water over leaked topless photos of his ex-girlfriend, Lara Bingle. Bingle is Australia’s version of Paris Hilton (but *more* useless) and in 2006 she had an affair with a married Fevola. Apparently some photos Fevola took of Bingle in the shower have been passed out amongst AFL players and have now made their way to the media – and Bingle is seeking a breach of privacy lawsuit.

It is a very macho sport (despite the uniform of short-shorts and knee-high socks) that creates typical badly behaved jock stereotypes of its players. The corporate AFL is trying to clean up player images and eliminate stereotypes, particularly concerning violence against women and anti drinking/drugs. I think having a gay player would definitely aid the AFL’s PR campaign – just to prove to the media and fans that (contrary to popular belief) not all footy players are made from the same mould.

The “Brownlow Medal” is the AFL’s version of ‘The Oscars’. Men watch it to see their favourite players win ‘best and fairest’, but men *and* women watch it to see what the players dates look like and wear. It is always a big deal and the Australian media, without fail, do a big report on ‘who wore what’. If this sounds pretty pathetic and un-newsworthy, you’d be right. But it’s actually pretty funny because all the WAG’s (‘wives and girlfriends’) try to one-up each other and grab the spotlight. Here are some examples;

At last year’s ‘Brownlow’ a WAG by the name of Brynne Gordon turned up to the awards in this get-up. She is on the arm of one Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, who used to own one of the AFL teams. She is 26 to his 67...

In 2004 Rebecca Twigley attended the event in this little number;
Her boyfriend actually won the Brownlow medal that night, but media covergae of Chris Judd was nothing compared to the attention Ms. Twigley and *that* dress received. As a result Rebecca Twigley was offered a modelling contract and is currently the weather girl for a major Australian news network.

So, the 'Brownlow' is a big deal - players and their WAG's are scrutinized, idolized and epitomized. Hopefully that will give some people an idea of what a big deal Declan/Simon would have been turning up to the award hand-in-hand.


  1. I take a week off and you go and I end up with more on my list, not less.

    Coming here is bad for my wallet.

  2. First, love your review and so glad you liked it:)

    Second, thank you sooooo much for the extra info!! I had no idea the Brownlow is that big of a deal. Very interesting...and I am glad you offered some background!!!!

    I can't wait for more from Sean Kennedy!

  3. PS - I almost went on Twitter to see if anyone knew who Mr. Squiggle I know:)

  4. Terrific review, Danielle. Sean is definitely a Melbourne boy, although he lives over here in Perth now. :) I also related strongly to the story because it was set locally and it was so believable in terms of how an AFL star and his partner would be treated after he came out.

    If you liked T&D you might also be interested in trying Isabelle Rowan's book 'A Note In The Margin'. She is Melbourne writer too.

    "I almost went on Twitter to see if anyone knew who Mr. Squiggle I know:)"

    *snort* Mandi, I had emails asking me about Oz slang, AFL and especially about Mr Squiggle. I had a standard email response complete with links. LOL.

  5. Kris - thanks! I just bought that Isabelle Rowan book for my Kindle. Thankyou for the heads-up.

  6. wow great review! this looks like such a great read!!! Im adding to my TBR right now! Thanks for the contextualizing! it was awesome =)


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