A mopey young Londoner pursues a friendship with an older woman in Mardell’s (Darkshines Seven, 2015, etc.) seriocomic novel with shades of Nick Hornby’s work.
Sad-sack man-child Ray English is staring down his 30th birthday, working a dead-end call-center job, and still hung up on his college girlfriend, Katie, who unceremoniously dumped him five years ago. A self-confessed “intolerable little shit,” he’s nearly exhausted the patience of his lifelong friend and roommate, Danny, who just wants him to stop stewing over the girl who kicked him to the curb. Ray is reforming his old band to perform at an acquaintance’s wedding, which may be the kick in the pants he needs to get his life in gear, but it also means a return to his hometown—and a possible encounter with Katie. Meanwhile, Ray unburdens himself to Anya Belmont, a decade-older married woman whom he happened to cold-call one night at work. The pair never meet face to face but build a friendship by telling each other stories of romantic disasters and relating their skeptical attitudes about love. This thoroughly enjoyable novel offers a clever, contemporary spin on the classic boy-meets-girl plot. Neither Ray nor Anya is particularly likable, but that just makes them more real. Like many spurned lovers, Ray puts his ex on a pedestal without realizing that his reasons for loving her, such as that “she wears good shoes” and has “perfect taste in music,” are juvenile. Wisely, Mardell balances his leading man’s occasionally tedious monologues about relationships with amusing interludes from secondary characters. Particularly welcome is Anya’s friend Eva, a reluctant, albeit wildly successful, children’s book author who hates kids: “How am I supposed to build a career on the back of children’s whims?” she moans. Yet even she turns out to be more complex than she initially seems. Everyone in this book is struggling to determine what it means to be successful in life and love, and Mardell ably captures their challenge of transitioning from youthful optimism to sober adulthood.
A smart, quick-witted take on love and friendship, perfect for readers with less starry-eyed views of romance.