Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ by John O’Farrell

Date finished: 16 May 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Source: Bought as a gift for my boyfriend by his mother!

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Black Swan in June 2001

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

Michael Adams shares a flat with three other men in their late twenties. Days are spent lying in bed, playing computer games and occasionally doing a bit of work. And then, when he feels like it, he crosses the river and goes back to his unsuspecting wife and children.

For Michael is living a double life – he escapes from the exhausting misery of babies by telling his wife he has to work through the night or travel up north. And while she is valiantly coping on her own, he is just a few miles away in a secret flat, doing all the things that most men with small children can only dream about.

The Review

This book has been languishing on my boyfriend’s half-shelf in our study for ages. The reason he only takes up half a shelf, and the reason it’s sat there for so long, is because he isn’t what you would call a reader. In fact, the last time he read a work of fiction was when he was 15 and compelled to do so by school. He is now 25. I long ago gave up on attempting to persuade him to read anything but his mother never has. So, pretty much every Christmas, she buys another book that she thinks he’ll like.

I dawdle along with that back story by way of explanation as to how I came to read such a clearly male-driven novel. When, after giggling all the way through it, he finished it on a train to Sienna, he turned to me with his eyes all welled up and said ‘I liked that…please will you read it?”, I had no choice really!

I was surprised to find myself chuckling away after just the first couple of pages! Michael, although dilluded and selfish, is a very wry and amusing narrator. I often find with books that are intended to be amusing that they fall flat and end up sounding false. (The one exception I can think of at the moment being Terry Pratchett’s novels). Michael’s tale reads like a series of anecdotes told by a friend in the pub and his voice is so authentic that I couldn’t help giggling along!

There really isn’t a great deal more to say about this book – the characters aren’t particularly complex but they are like the supporting actors in any good comedy and serve to highlight the traits of the leads. Michael’s father was a particular favourite of mine and pops up occasionally with some brilliant lines.

The plot is simply and not particularly suprising. In fact, I imagine this is the male equivalent of ‘chick lit’. There’s a few laughs, a few tears, a few embarassing exploits and a not wholly unexpected but thoroughly satisfying ending.

Overall: Despite what you’d expect from a book whose title is a slogan from an advertising campaign, this is a genuinely funny book and a quick read. Ever fancied a sneaky peek into what your husband/boyfriend might have been like if you weren’t around or possibly even what he’s like when he’s hanging out with his friends? This book is a hilarious glimpse into an immature man’s psyche.

John O’Farrell, as it happens, is also a fantastic non-fiction writer on English history and wrote ‘An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Chargeand An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain (or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always.

Between them, they rip through the highlights of the entire history of England while managing to be thoroughly engaging and entertaining. I can’t recommend them enough and should probably actually dedicate a whole post to them one of these days…