When I read the synopsis for this, it piqued my interest. It was set in India and revolved a man who wasn’t out because it was illegal to be gay until the law was overturned in 2018. The subplot of having a literal law hindering a person’s love life is what made me pick this up.
I’ve found that romance doesn’t appeal to me unless there’s a secondary plot with deeper themes and greater stakes. Reading romance for the fluff is rare for me and I tend to get bored quickly. But this felt like something that would educate me while I read. I figured that if there was any gay romance I would start with, this would be a good one.
The Other Man was also the only book I could think of reading while participating in NaNoWriMo. Already, that’s not a great month for my reading, but I always try to keep a book going for inspiration and to take my mind off my own story. To make sure I was reading something entirely unlike what I was writing, choosing a romance seemed like the best option. And so I went with it.
Once again, I was terrible with taking notes for this book. I think that it being close to the end of the year meant that I was kind of done with everything. Past me should have been better about it, but the only line I had is entirely unhelpful. So this is all from what my brain remembers of the book, four months after I finished it.
Title: The Other Man
Author: Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Book 28 of 2021
Reading Time: 3hrs 8mins
Date Finished: December 10, 2021
Content Warnings: Homophobia, homophobic comments, closeted sexuality, self-deprecation, partner insensitivity, gaslighting, emotional manipulation, internalized homophobia
What Worked For Me: Setting, main character, family dynamic
What Didn’t Work For Me: Cheating trope, love interest
The fact that The Other Man is set in Mumbai was incredibly fun for me. To my recollection, I’ve never read anything set in India. Being that it was a new setting to me, I enjoyed all the descriptions and the fact that one character was a tourist in the area. Hearing about all the food also made me constantly crave Indian food and miss the butter chicken rice I had while I was quarantined in the hotel after coming back to Singapore.
Following Ved, a closeted gay Indian man in his thirties, the plot is largely about his arranged marriage and what happens when he meets a gay man who will only be in town for a few weeks. As his attraction to this man grows, Ved struggles to be true to himself when it’s illegal to be anything but straight.
As a main character, I liked Ved a lot. His love of ice cream and his dog were very much relatable to me. It was fun to read about him because he felt so different from the men I usually read about. Though he’s a workaholic, Ved falls into that routine because he doesn’t have many friends to spend time with and would rather bury himself in work than deal with the heartbreak left by his secret ex.
Seeing who he was at work and the interactions he had with his secretary served as good breaks from the rest of the plot, reminding me that his family’s business was also an important part of the story. I liked the times we spent with his parents too. The interactions were effortlessly amusing, allowing some comic relief between some of the more serious moments.
I kind of knew that this would have the cheating trope because Ved agrees to an arranged marriage with a woman at his mother’s request. The fact that he’s closeted and meets a gay man was a clear sign that there would be cheating. It’s a trope I have a hard time getting behind because I can never find a reason that makes it justifiable.
Even in this case, Ved spends a lot of time talking about how he feels like he’s so close to his fiancée and how he loves her as a friend. It felt to me like she was a safe person to confide in about his sexuality. Based on their interactions, I don’t think she would have judged him at all. Granted, I’m saying this as a straight woman whose sexuality and relationships aren’t illegal, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.
Maybe if the chemistry between Ved and his secret new fling/boyfriend was stronger, I wouldn’t have such a hard time with it. While I mostly understand why they were attracted to each other, the relationship always felt weird to me.
Carlos, the love interest, never seemed to take Ved into much consideration. It was purely about how much fun they were having together. Many times while reading, I felt that Carlos was incredibly insensitive about the fact that gay relationships were illegal at the time and punishable by jail or death. For something as serious as that, I felt like he should have been more mindful.
Much of the relationship between Ved and Carlos was me being frustrated with the latter for not being more understanding. After the initial attraction, I failed to see why they were such a good match. Someone who can’t be considerate about a literal life or death situation didn’t feel deserving of a man as sweet and pure-hearted as Ved.
It was also frustrating for me to stay invested in the story when it felt like it was quite repetitive. Ved would think about coming clean to his fiancée and then avoid her. She’d get mad at him and they’d fight. And then it would repeat while he kept sneaking around with Carlos.
It’s not so much that I was mad about the sneaking around, I just felt like there was only so many times the same conflict could play out in slight variations. Perhaps that’s because I’ve never known what it’s like to be in a secret same-sex relationship. My heteronormative experience might have kept me from understanding why it was so necessary to go through the same thing numerous times.
Still, it didn’t feel like any of it justified cheating. I know it’s in the title – The Other Man – but I have such a hard time with that trope in general. Nothing ever makes me feel like it’s justified. And despite Ved’s circumstances here, I don’t think it required him to cheat. Even if he wasn’t actually in love with his fiancée and only using her as a beard.
Okay, enough about the stuff I didn’t like. I just enjoy how easy the book was to read. Despite how little I touched it during the month of November, it was easy to get back into the story when I finally had the mental capacity for it in December. Ved was a lot of fun to follow, even if he was a bit too indecisive for my tastes at times.
The fact that it’s also an Asian culture meant that family was a big part of the story. I appreciated that a lot because I think family often gets overlooked in romances. Ved is close to his mom despite the secrets he keeps from her, and his relationship with his dad felt accurate to what occurs in most older Asian families.
Seeing how much he respected both his parents felt real. I could see the struggle he had with the expectations that he would take over his father’s company while not being sure if that’s what he actually wanted. In some cases, I preferred reading about those moments than the ones he spent with Carlos.
I’ve already mentioned this a little earlier, but the talk of food. It’s so present throughout this because Ved describes a lot of his meals and all the things he introduces Carlos to. More than once, my stomach grumbled while reading. Particularly during a scene where his mom cooks a major feast, I wished I had something to snack on. It was great to see that “his mom” left some recipes at the end of the book for anyone else who got hungry.
The romance between Carlos and Ved being interracial was also quite cool. I liked that they learned about each other and how much I could see the cultural differences play out. Having been in an interracial relationship, I know how difficult it can be. Reading about how they approached the same thing in different ways was accurate and refreshing.
I think my feelings and rating of this book would have been closer to a 4 or 4.5 stars if the ending had been different. The way the last 50 or so pages played out felt like a major character regression for Ved. He’d grown so much, but the plot was pushing him in a direction that I don’t think he would have actually gone in.
Much of what happened felt like the need to seek a traditional romantic happy ending. But it felt flat for me. Having already disliked Carlos for about half the book by this point, I was disappointed to see how the author chose to end the story. Had it been different, I think I would have kept my rating higher. Unfortunately, the ending is what made me knock it down to 3.5 stars.
There we have it. My first M/M romance read and reviewed.
Despite my not liking it much in the second half and strongly disliking the ending, I did enjoy most of it enough. It was a good time and easy to read. The fact that it didn’t take much brainpower from me was also good as I struggled through my novel for NaNoWriMo. For that, I’m thankful.
This has opened the door for me and I would like to read more gay romance, both for M/M relationships and sapphic (female-female) relationships. It’s a subgenre I’ve barely touched until now, outside of it being present in some of the fantasy or mystery books I’ve read.
I would be interested in seeing what this author writes next. I think there’s room for me to enjoy his work more when cheating isn’t a trope and the love interest isn’t Carlos. And I would love to learn more about Indian culture through his books.
Thinking back, The Other Man is still the right choice as a venture into M/M romance. I’m glad I picked one that was written by a man. Glad that it was set in India, and glad that it had an interracial relationship. Everything lined up well to make this my introduction to the subgenre. And I think I’d lean more toward picking up other M/M romances that are OwnVoices in terms of representation,
If there are any recommendations out there, I would love to hear them.