Can a fast-paced slow-burn be a thing? If it can, then that would be helpful as it’s really the only way I can explain what reading Thomas Grattan’s sophomore novel felt like.

Let me try to make this make sense. In Tongues tells us the story of Gordon, a gay college dropout who with a kind of spontaneous passivity that defines his character, heads to New York after the breakdown of a relationship, just because he can’t come up with anywhere else someone fleeing Minnesota might choose to flee to. There, in the space of very few pages, Gordon gets an apartment and a job, has a surprising amount of casual sex, gets another job and another apartment, and finally ends up getting a third job as he transitions from a dog-walker (job number two) to the personal assistant of gay power-couple, Philip and Nicola.

The thing about Gordon is that he is completely incapable of having a relationship with anybody that isn’t fundamentally needy and egotistical. Hence, as he performs odd jobs, acts as awkward eye-candy-cum-waiter at dinner parties, has a one-off sexual encounter with Nicola, semi-steals Nicola’s old clothes, and develops a slightly grovelling, slightly petulant sense of protectiveness for Philip, there’s something about the insincerity of everything other than Gordon’s need for validation that keeps one from connecting with either the narrator or the events of the novel.

That’s what I mean about In Tongues feeling both fast and slow. Loads happens in little time, but it took me a lot longer to finish this book than it should have, just because it was often more appealing to put the book down and make a cup of tea than to keep reading.

So where’s the burn? It hit me unexpectedly. The final chapter of the novel jumps forward a decade to Gordon’s new life as a hospital nurse on a blood cancer ward. Initially, this felt incredibly abrupt and forced, but then as we learn that Philip is dying upstairs and see their last, tender, but powerfully unfinished encounter, I found myself moved to tears. Somehow, out of the mass of Gordon’s failed and often self-sabotaged experiences in his twenties, Grattan manages to build a character that, without us fully realising it, embodies enough of the recklessness, lack of direction, and barely suppressed childish attention-seeking that characterises most of our young selves to some degree, that we care.

And because he made me care, even though I didn’t particularly like or even enjoy Gordon, I will remember him. Does that make the book worth reading? For this reader, the answer is yes.