Brand New Friend
First published in: 2005
This edition: Hodder and Stoughton 2005
Genre: humor, chick & ladlit
Cover design & illustration – unfortunately uncredited :/
Guest appearance by Wil – the Harry to my Sally
Mike Gayle is my go-to-guy if I need a break from tedious reading, or a tedious series of events in life. He rarely disappoints.
…I was reading THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING when I decided to put that down for a while, favoring a regular British bloke over a bunch of hobbits fretting over a ring. Sorry Tolkien. It's nothing personal. One of these days, I will continue your book. (I do like LotR, don't get me wrong. I just haven't been able to finish it, yet.)
But at that moment, I needed to just pick up a book: mind on zero, feet up, enjoy. I picked up BRAND NEW FRIEND.
Rob's girlfriend Ashley's sick of commuting: it's time to take the "long-distance" out of "long-distance relationship", and move in together. Rob hasn't got much of a choice (it's moving or losing her): after some thinking, he decides to take the step and to move to Manchester to be with her. This move won't hurt his career much: he can continue to work from home, a home he now shares with his wonderful girlfriend.
No, the biggest sacrifice is that he has to leave his best friend behind. Rob's confident that he's made the right choice by going with Ashley, but he can't shake this feeling of loneliness, an empty space (next to his bar stool) that only a best mate can fill again.
Months go by, however, and still no luck. Where's Rob's new best friend?? And then, he meets the perfect new pal. Except Jo, well…
…Jo's a girl.
Brand New Friend was enjoyable, and I finished it easily and happily, but it wasn't my favorite book of Gayle's. It was Rob's fault: I found him to be a whiny fellow, the type who has an unhealthy dependency: having friends no more than three feet removed from his own person. The bloke dates he went on (placing adverts in the paper hoping to meet a new best friend) made for very amusing reading material, but I couldn't help thinking Rob was a little desperate and slightly pathetic in a silly way. He's got it good: a great relationship, a new home and a snazzy job. I mean… there was overreaction. Lots of it.
Then again, it did make him rather funny at times. I found myself sighing and shaking my head while laughing at him a little. He actually was, throughout it all, endearing.
Dude, it's okay to be alone every now and then. And true friendship defies any distance. I didn't see the problem, personally. I didn't see why the London best mate was suddenly written off as being a valid best mate. Because of some distance? Ah.
I also recognized a lot of Rob's character traits in Mike Gayle's other male protagonists, so it did feel like I've read about this guy before, even though I haven't. Mike's 'blokes' tend to be alike in ways.
Another complaint I have focuses on Rob's Ashley: she seems a little bit too perfect. I don't know a lot of women who don't freak out when their man regularly hangs out with another single woman, just the two of them, forming a(n emotional) connection together. Not when the two friends hide it from the girlfriend for a good while before laying the surprise on her. Secrecy usually implies there's something to hide, and no girlfriend really trusts anything between her boyfriend and his girly friend after all that sneaking around. Not really. Not like Ashley does.
So is it possible for a man and woman to be friends, just friends? And with that, I mean absolutely zero sexual tension? Purely platonic? For both of them? And both of them are straight? Hmmmm…. I don't know. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY comes to mind. (Love that movie. "Pecan pieeeeeee.") But surely, it must be possible.
Bless those who can make it work. Good for them, I say!
In Rob and Jo's case I think I would have preferred to see the girlfriend make a big deal out of it. Because that's real life for ya, in most cases. It would also have made both Rob's relationship and his friendship face a bigger, and real challenge. Juicy reading material! Missed opportunities. Ashley's too-optimistic-to-be-believable reaction made the built up tension (of keeping "it's Jo actually, not Joe" a secret from her) fall a bit flat.
Lots of kudos are in order though: Mike Gayle is a formulaic author, yes, but BRAND NEW FRIEND was surprising; I didn't see the ending coming as much as I usually do with Gayle's novels, and I applaud the unpredictability of this one. I really didn't expect a lot of what happened.
Furthermore, I now do understand what is meant when people praise a book or movie to be "full of belly laughs" – I had plenty of those as I read. Deep, heartfelt laughter – this book is another feelgood novel. Once I got somewhat over Rob's cry-baby demeanor, I really did enjoy this book. Brand New Friend wasn't Gayle's best novel, but it was certainly more than good enough.
It's not often that I feel I get to know a person by the books he writes. Mike Gayle seems like such a wonderful and nice guy. He's kind of a friend to me, not a brand new one, but a dear old, loyal friend, always there for me when I need him. His books provide me with laughs, company and a general feeling of well-being.
Again. That's all I ask for.