Tuesday, June 14, 2005

My Legendary Girlfriend - Book Review by Lezah

'My Legendary Girlfriend' was London-based Mike Gayle's first novel; he quickly followed up his debut l with the highly acclaimed 'Mr. Commitment', 'Turning Thirty' and 'Dinner for Two'.

'My Legendary Girlfriend' could easily get slotted into the 'chicklit' category; it could be seen merely as a Bridget Jones-type book written from a male perspective. And perhaps that's all it is. I haven't read 'Mr. Commitment', but everything I've heard is that it is far superior to 'My Legendary Girlfriend'. And yet, in spite of that somewhat negative introduction, I just want to say that I really liked 'My Legendary Girlfriend' - so much so that I've just finished re-reading it after lending it out numerous times to friends. And the fact that I picked my particular hardcover copy up in a bargain bin for $2? That just makes it even better in my eyes! A witty and charming book that I don't have to re-mortgage my house to buy - I'm all for it!

Whereas 'Turning Thirty' is about (obviously) turning thirty, 'My Legendary Girlfriend' parachutes us into the life of a young man reaching another of life's milestones: our protagonist, Will, is turning 26 and he realizes that for the first time in his life, he will be closer to 30 than he is to 20. His birthday is also an anniversary, of sorts: Will's birthday coincides with the third anniversary of the day his 'legendary' girlfriend, Aggi, unceremoniously and unexpectedly dumped him following a three year relationship.

Will looks at his friends' lives - people who are making a successful transition into adulthood, with careers, relationships, and dreams achieved, and contrasts that with his own life: after much time spent on the dole, he has finally finished teacher training and landed a position in London at a comprehensive school, where after only two weeks on the job the students have already pegged him as a 'twat'. He's had to move into a "glorified studio flat, minus the glory, on the second floor of a decrepit Edwardian house in crappy Archway". He spends his birthday weekend alone in the flat, scrounging cigarettes, burning his lunch and then ignoring the fire alarm (and consequently upsetting his neighbours), shoplifting from a convenience store, mooning over the long-departed Aggi, lying to friends and family over the phone about his social life, and developing a relationship over the phone with the flat's former tenant, a young woman he has never met.

"My Legendary Girlfriend' is very funny in that self-deprecating British way. Gayle's observations on living and loving ring true regardless of what age you are, but are especially poignant for those stepping into adulthood. He juxtaposes characters' reactions to the same event, clearly illustrating how something can be insignificant to one character, while at the same time be a life altering event that shapes the entire existence of someone else.

Gayle is currently being hailed as one of the foremost contemporary black British authors. I think his writing transcends that, and I believe he is currently one of the top British writers. Period.   

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