Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Importance of Being a Bachelor by Mike Gayle

Despite the example of their own parents' enduring marriage, the three Bachelor brothers show no signs of settling down. Adam has a string of glamorous girlfriends, but they aren't suitable wife material. Luke has just proposed to Cassie but his refusal to consider having children looks like an insurmountable barrier. And baby of the family Russell is in love with the one woman he can't have. Then their father announces he has been thrown out of the family home and this forces all three brothers to examine their own priorities. Are all three Bachelor brothers totally hopeless cases or just late starters?

It is a mark of how much I adore Mike Gayle's books that I brought The Importance of being a Bachelor the instant I saw it this afternoon; I put aside the latest in the Dresden series that I was reading; and I completed the book in one satisfying sitting. In fact, the only book of his that I have not appreciated to this extent is his non-fiction 'The To-Do List'!

This book sets out to explore the nature of relationships: that between a couple who have been together for forty years; that just starting up; the love between adult and child. It shows how relationships can be damaged and irretrievably broken, while it also offers a perspective on hope and forgiveness.

All those lofty ideals are couched in a novel that is easy to read, and flows tremendously smoothly. I had read the first 60 pages with no effort, and was instantly drawn into the lives of the Bachelor family. As an aside, that was the only part I found genuinely annoying - the little play on words with the surname Bachelor and the fact that these three Bachelor men were flirting with disaster and the possibility of remaining bachelors forever. It was a little too 'sly nod at the audience'.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this lightweight story that pokes fun at the attitudes of men towards relationships:

" 'So what do you think the problem is?'

'The same one that afflicts blokes the world over but for some reason seems to affect our family more than most,' said Adam. 'We just don't know when we're on to a good thing and even when we do know we can't stop ourselves from screwing up.'

The men were a little bit interchangeable in terms of characteristics - only their individual circumstances allowed me to really differentiate between them. The women were well written in the main: I really liked the Bachelor boys' mum, who was warm and realistic. I really sympathised with her situation, because I could almost imagine my own mum suffering like that after years of marriage (a really painful thought!)

This book is universally warm, in fact - rather like drinking hot chocolate or wrapping myself in a cosy duvet. And this is what I love most about all of Mike Gayle's books: although they may examine issues that are pertinent and painful to our own lives, there is always a happy ending. The comfort of this allows you to read and enjoy all manner of tense moments within the novel with the knowledge that it will all come good. I know that not all readers will appreciate this part (and certainly sometimes I like to worry about the characters a little more!), but now and then it is lovely to read a novel of this nature. Recommended for those looking for a light read on a summer day.

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