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This is a review of the 2000 book 'The best a man can get' by John O'Farrell. The front cover seemed familiar to me, with two goldfish bowls in front of a London skyline, and a goldfish jumping between the two. This picture is a 'does what it says on the tin' cover!
A bit about the book
The book is about Michael Adams, a dad of two with one on the way and his odd life. He lives with his wife Catherine and two kids in a London shoe box bijou two bedroomed cottage and when he's not there... he's living in a london flat share over the river with three other lads. This is due to it being a work studio, but he tells his wife (often) that he is working so hard he is doing overnight stints and she believes him!
Sleep is underrated...
Michael really uses the flat to get some me time and most importantly sleep for up to 14 uninterruped hours. A few pages early on are given to describe his room layout, with a bed and fridge and kettle lay out so he doesn't need to leave the bed in a morning. The other side of the room is his recording studio where he writes music for advertising jingles. He doesn't get as much work as he leads Catherine to believe.
Ray in disguise?
This book reminded me of Ray from Everybody Loves Raymond. Whilst Michael wants to be a good dad, he says it has come too early for him and it's all Catherine's idea to have the children this soon. The thing is, with his attitude, I doubt Michael would ever be ready.
In the book, Michael faces all kinds of temptation with his fake single lad life. He doesn't tell his flatmates he is married with kids and conducts a double life with them socially. Despite all this, you can't help but like the cut of Michael's gib and when things start to go wrong for him you actually feel sorry for him.
Laugh out loud
I laughed out loud in many places during the reading of this book which took less than 24 hours. Unfortunately for me I was sat in the waiting room of a garage having my car MOTd (it passed!) whilst reading so I was that annoying person chuckling into their book. I couldn't help it, honestly!
John O'Farrell is an author I'll be seeking out again soon as I really enjoyed reading this book. I could even see how it would make a good film, a male sort of 'sliding doors' as it had a few twists and turns in it. His wife Catherine's not the dumb wife you originally think and she has a wicked sense of humour.
I really think this is a good 'blokey book' if you are looking for something outside of the chic lit circuit. In this book, the author beams you directly into the mind of a man and what it feels like to be a father. Sometimes getting it wrong and bearing the wrath of his wife. I had to laugh about some of the comments she makes to him, critical of his sterilising skills and parenting know-how. I could really connect with that and it made me think about how I may critique my husband unfairly when it comes to our daughter!
Meet Michael Adams, a typical thirty-something bloke who is apparently living the single life in a batchelor style flat with three other guys. A home environment which consists of spending loads of time playing computer games, getting vast enjoyment out of mindless trivia quizzes and deciding who is going to prepare dinner...or should I say, get the takeaway in. Not only does Michael live here, he also works from the flat as a self employed musician, composing advertising jingles for a living. Using his room as a studio where his equipment is set up, aswell as a TV and fridge, Michael can pass most of the day lounging around as everything is carefully positioned to be within easy reach of his bed. The paper boy even has a key to the flat so he can deliver Michael's daily newspaper directly to the end of the bed (until his mother finds out!). Michael can therefore relax and get up whenever he feels like it, working a couple of hours a day at the most.
But everything is not as it seems and this is only half of the story...
After completing and submitting his latest 15 second musical creation, Michael sets off across London to return 'home', but not to the flat...to his unsuspecting wife and two children! Just a few miles away yet a completely different life.
I shouldn't have been surprised by this bombshell as the book blurb clearly states that this is the main storyline but it didn't help make it any less shocking. His poor wife thinks that he has been working away for a couple of days while she has struggled on her own looking after the kids. I know how hard it is caring for one toddler, never mind two, and the very thought of this man's actions made me feel so angry. I felt an instant dislike towards him. So much so that I could have poked him in the effin' eyes...or much worse!
My initial thought was that I'd made a mistake. Perhaps I shouldn't have bought this book due to its content. I thought it sounded quite interesting when I read the cover but in reality, I came to the conclusion that maybe it was meant to be aimed at men who dream of living this kind of double life, and certainly not women with children. Was I going to end up feeling offended by its words?
It's very unusual for me to have such reservations when I begin to read a book but I decided to persevere. After all, this had only been the first chapter!
"We've all done it. We've all kept little secrets from our partners. We've all avoided telling them an awkward detail or subtly skirted over something we'd rather they didn't know. We've all rented a secret room on the other side of the city where we could hide half the week to get away from all that boring, exhausting baby stuff. Oh, that last one is just me apparently"
Through Michael's narration it becomes apparent that his wife, Catherine, does actually know about the apartment as it was an arrangement they made when they began to get short of space at home. Due to their expanding family and the subsequent increase in baby and child equipment and toys, little space was left for the musical gear required for his work. She is completely unaware though that he is using the flat as a getaway whenever he feels like it. As soon as the going gets tough or an argument occurs, he disappears for a few days, pretending to be utterly engrossed in his work. The result being that his wife thinks he is grafting really hard, sometimes into the early hours of the morning!
As I was reading I found the whole concept really hard to comprehend but gradually, Michael's thoughts and feelings are portrayed, offering an explanation...or is it just an excuse? It seems that the problem began when their first child arrived. He hadn't really felt ready to become a father but agreed that they should start trying for a baby, just in an attempt to keep his wife happy. Within a month she was pregnant!
"The strain that small children brought into our lives suddenly seemed to create such tension and petty hostility between us that I was terrified of the damage becoming irreparable. Admittedly, I had developed a personal solution to a joint problem without even talking it through with Catherine. But I didn't feel I could confess to wanting time away from my children"
So in Michael's eyes he is merely 'resting' their relationship on a regular basis for the sake of their marriage. The fact that he didn't feel ready to start a family in the first place is now emphasised by the major changes that have inevitably had to take place in their lives. Irritable irrationality emerges in them both, affecting Michael in particular. He feels pushed out as his wife's love is suddenly directed elsewhere...obviously towards the youngsters. Catherine doesn't help matters though as she is never satisfied with his childcare attempts but doesn't seem willing to offer guidance, just criticism, making him feel like a failure as he doesn't easily get to grips with fatherly duties. In comparison, she comfortably slips into parenting mode without giving it a seconds thought and automatically understands their children's needs. Overall, the roles of inadequately skilled father and paranoid, obsessive mother are much exaggerated resulting in Michael's somewhat bizarre actions as he gets caught up in his own selfishness, constantly being pulled in conflicting directions and struggling to make necessary sacrifices.
It's chaotic to say the least when a little one arrives...a new overwhelming responsibility resulting in dramatic alterations to your lifestyle. People adapt to the situation differently and some find it difficult to focus on the positive outcome of the disruption. Being a family can therefore create a certain amount of pressure. Children are a joy and a blessing but no matter how much we adore our little angels I'm sure most parents would admit that ocasionally, they dream of being able to escape for a while - just for a few hours though! Leading a secret double life to get some peace and quiet sounds quite absurd but perhaps it's understandable (ish) that someone could resort to such an extreme reaction. I doubt that many (if any) would actually go ahead and do it though. Surely you would sit down and talk your concerns through with your partner!
I therefore found the overall storyline to be a little far-fetched but the book is saved by the underlying themes of general family life, the anxieties of parenting, coming of age and trying to face up to responsibilities - even if it means learning the hard way. The book offers an entertaining look at how the male mind (sometimes) works and demonstrates that we (male or female) can't always be in control of our feelings and emotions.
Despite my original doubts I can honestly say that I ended up really enjoying 'The Best a Man Can Get'. The main enjoyment factor of the book comes from its honest humour and acute, ruthless observations of experiences with a small child, particularly regarding sleep deprivation! John O'Farrell certainly succeeds in injecting humour into virtually each and every page. I haven't laughed at a book like this for ages! It's really funny...in fact, it's simply hilarious in places and includes many laugh out loud moments that I can fully appreciate as a mother facing the constant demands of a toddler. It's so insightful about everyday life that I'm sure you'll read every page with a feeling of recognition.
Even the chapter titles are quite amusing, each one being titled with a well known advertsing slogan that has relevance to that particular section of the book. For example, 'Have a Break' (from the Kit Kat ads), the famous National Lottery 'It Could Be You' and 'Live Life to the Max' (taken from the Pepsi Max advertisements). The name of the book itself is a Gillette strapline and this is also quite significantly used as the title of the first chapter...and the last.
In my opinion the book is let down a little by the lack of character development as I found that it only really offers an insight into Michael. As the protagonist of the book, I must admit that I felt really strange towards him - a connection consisting of empathy and understanding as he describes his kids but then utter outrage as he disappears to 'work' to get a break from the trials and tribulations of family life. He's actually quite irritating throughout much of the book, making little effort to resolve their problems. And during rows with Catherine he even has the nerve to resort to guilt-tripping her about the fact that he has to spend so much time away from her and the children to fund their lifestyle. Could this man stoop any lower?!
Even though Michael's father acts as a major catalyst in creating some life changing moments towards the end of the book, the reader isn't really told that much about him...just that Michael feels resentment towards him for walking out on him and his mother when he was a small boy (something which perhaps partially suggests a reason behind Michael's behaviour regarding parenthood). It therefore feels like he has been added as an afterthought to conveniently bring the story to its conclusion. The author possibly meant it to be portrayed in this manner as a way of reflecting that Michael's own father has never been around for him, but to me, somehow it just didn't ring true. Likewise with Catherine. She initially comes across as being fairly straight-laced and mature but some seemingly out of character references are included in the form of memories, regarding her love of practical jokes. It does emphasise how she has changed since having children but again, in my opinion this seems to have been thrown into the story, just to give relevance to a later practical joke that occurs as an element of the storyline.
As these two characters play such a major part in the plot I think giving them greater depth would've been greatly beneficial, particularly to the ending of the story which comes across as being a bit rushed. Although genuinely touching, I think that the conclusion of 'The Best a Man Can Get' is slightly weak in comparison to the the rest of the book. As the whole plot revolves around a journey of self-awareness it could've been so much more thought provoking and endearing. Having said that, feeling a little bit let down by the ending didn't spoil my overall enjoyment of the book. Due to its humour I would suggest that it's definitely worth a read...although it's left me wondering just what my husband is up to when he has to work away for a few days!
Published by: Doubleday
Cover price: £10 (although I paid 50p for it at my local charity shop!)
After finishing a couple of books that I had taken on holiday with me, I was forced to turn to the reading material that my girlfriend had taken. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it at all, as she normally likes girly books like those written by Maeve Binchy. So, that is how I came to read John O'Farrell's 'The Best A Man Can Get'. The front page shows a goldfish jumping from one fish tank, across the skyline of London (including the River Thames), and towards another fish tank on the other side. There is a quote by India Knight on the cover saying 'Howlingly funny, madly well-written, ruthlessly observed' - which seems like an overuse of adverbs to me, and besides, I don't even know who this India Knight person is. The book is about an advertisement jingle writer called Michael Adams, who is leading a double life. His family home is in North London, where he lives with his wife and two small children. Michael wasn't ready to have children, and he finds them not only exhausting work, but 'boring'. Don't get him wrong though, he loves them dearly, but he wasn't ready to sacrifice his life by letting a baby and a toddler take over his world. He resents the way that his wife seems to spend every minute thinking about their children, and doesn't appear to have any time left for him. Yet when he tries to get involved in their care, he is made to feel like a failure. He doesn't seem to be able to get anything right from mixing up the baby's milk (he should have used a knife to level off the powder in the measuring spoon!) to the angle that he holds the baby's bottle at. There's always something that his wife is moaning at him for. So, as his wife seems to be coping so well on her own, and he is being made to feel miserable, Michael thinks that he should spend some time away from his family home, in the interests of his marriage, of course. Michael's wife thinks tha
t the room he rents in a South London flat is purely used as studio. A place where he stores his instruments and recording equipment, and spends hours working on various projects - he is, after all, a musician. In fact, Michael is working so hard, and such long hours, that sometimes he has to sleep over, and won't go home for a few days. In truth, he is doing as little work as possible, just enough to get by, while living a relaxing life with three other blokes in their late twenties. He sleeps in until the afternoon, plays computer games and trivia quizzes, and escapes from the traumas of a crying baby in the middle of the night. Michael Adams has one life north of the river, and one life to the south. Just a few miles apart, yet a whole different world. Inevitably his double life is exposed, and the consequences are far reaching. This book is a supposed to be a comedy. It is full of humour, crammed onto every page almost. How funny you find it may well depend upon your sex. My girlfriend found it hilarious and was laughing out loud in places (very embarrassing when you're lying out by the pool!). From a woman's perspective, she found it an amusing look at how men think and feel. John O'Farrell writes it in a manner whereby Michael seems to be making a joke out of some of the 'normal' behaviour traits of men. Maybe I personally could relate too well to the shortcomings of men, but I found myself despairing at some of the humour. I felt that the author had gone for an all or nothing response. You were either going to find the jokes hilariously funny, or you would grimace at what were some appallingly poor punchlines. Unfortunately, I found myself doing the latter all too often. Humour however, is the big selling point of this book. The back cover has quotes from reviews by The Mirror, The Times, Literary Review and India Knight (again!) singing the praises of the humour that John O'Farrell u
ses. Of course, what people find funny is very subjective, and you and I will probably differ. One of the funniest moments early on in the book is when Michael Adams is portraying his relationship with his wife before his children were born; "Once Catherine and I went on holiday with another couple, and on the last night we heard them nonchalantly chatting about us through the wall. They were saying they could never be married to anyone as peculiar as Catherine or me. They thought that our relationship was completely weird. Then we heard her muffled voice saying, 'Are you coming to bed or what, because this clingfilm's making my tits sweat.' And then we think he said, 'All right. Hang on, the zip's stuck on my wetsuit.' Every marriage is bizarre if you look under the surface." The character of Michael Adams is portrayed well, and you really feel like to get you know what he is about and why. This is exceedingly important as it is written in a narrative style, but it does mean that other characters do not get described so well. This results in you feeling that you don't really have a good insight into Catherine (Michael's wife). Perhaps this is inevitable. The story line is simple and uncomplicated initially, and the humour occurs in abundance. Towards the end, after Michael is exposed, the humour lessens, as the plot thickens. And as Michael has to learn his lesson in life, it seems like the reader is trying to be educated, too. There are some unexpected twists at the end which help to maintain interest. All in all, I felt that this book was more suited for the female of the species. It will give them a chance to chuckle and nod in agreement at some of the behaviour traits of men. But to any chaps that buy the book for their better halves, then it is also worth a read once they've finished with it.
Comedy books are great for that long train journey aren't they?, well they are if you've just missed your train and you're stuck in the middle of Nottingham station for an hour with nothing to do, see I lead a dual life, one side of me is the poor poor (did I mention poor?) student who can't afford anything, the other is the man who stands at the book-stand picking out which will be his next purchase, at the moment in time that I spotted 'the best a man can get' I was leading the latter life. *So Whats it all about then?* Imagine the above scenario of leading a dual life on a bigger scale, imagine you're a married man occasionally with 2 kids and a wife one side of town, struggling to pay the mortgage and secretly hating spending time with your children, whilst discreetly leading the 'lads life' on the other side of town, not waking till early afternoon, paying the paperboy to deliver your newspaper to the end of your bed and having huge long discussions about who can guess which songs next from the opening few bars of the song....... Michael leads this life, hes just hit his thirties and whenever hes asked what he does for a living he tells them hes 'in Advertising' when in all fact all he does is create jingles for the latest adverts, most of the time he lives in a flat with 3 lads who don't want to work so basically won't work. But then theres the other times when hes living the other side of London with his wife and children, to him young children are boring, but he hides that from his wife as he does his activities at the flat - she knows he lives there but she thinks he toils over his jingles all day till the early hours of the morning, when in actual fact he tries to do as little as possible whilst making the outside world believe that he is actually struggling away at his latest masterpiece and when we say outside world that includes his employers too, when he tells them that he n
eeds a week to get the latest jingle done, he really means it'll take him a day maximum and hes going to fart around for the rest of the week, sometimes going as far as putting the phone down on his family and employers before they've even spoke to him, this is Michaels life and hes happy with it. But it wouldn't be much of a book if that was it would it?, of course not - theres obviously a tale to tell here - its one of family life, coming of age a little later than usual and learning the hard way that you have responsibilities now, you get to see all of this through Michaels eyes as he plays around with his house-mates whilst acting the perfect family man to Catherine, his wife. * How does it stand up as a story * Very good actually, and the style that John O'Farrell has used is not dissimilar to that of Nick Hornby, Michael is your everyday lad, and telling the story through his eyes was probably a wise move on the authors part, if he did it any other way then you wouldn't have got the same affection for Michael as you do in the finished product, you would probably find yourself concerned too much with how Catherine is coping with the children than taking time to notice some of the subtle comedy lines that have been included in the writing of the story. * Its a comedy, did it make you laugh? * Definitely, its rare for me to get so engrossed in a book that it actually makes me laugh out loud, but on those fateful train journeys lets just say there were a few strange looks given towards me as I sat giggling away at Michaels latest outlook on life, or his daydreams of what a perfect situation would have been - best example I can give is that of when he realises Catherine has gone into labour and he needs to get to the hospital fast, he hails a cab and in the true writing of the book goes on to tell the tale of how he explained to the driver that his third child was about to be born and he needed a favo
ur as he had no cash but could provide a cheque in a couple of days time, before the driver replied 'Of Course you can, have it on the house I've got 2 littl'uns of me own!'...... of course that never really happened, the driver just told him to 'f**k off' before speeding away, but its that type of daydream that makes the story what it is, it adds to the main character in the story. * The Characters then?, any good * Well yes and no, the only one who you really get an insight to is Michael himself, after that you get what snippets of information the author chooses to give out, bits such as how Catherine will always try and wind up anybody and everybody, including Jehovas Witnesses, her parents and Michael, or how Michaels housemates all like to make one of the members of the household a laughing stock for a day, but you never get to know who is behind the names and they seem to blend into the background rather than stand out on their own. I mean there are moments when you can see a scene unfolding involving Michaels daughter Millie playing with other kids from her area and Michael having to put up with boring chatter from his neighbour about their latest purchase in car, but its never followed up on, and these people just seem to drift in and out of the storyline with no real effect on what you're reading. * Imagery then? * Again no, once more O'Farrells opted to tell you very little of what to expect, he describes little things but you never seem to get the whole picture, the personal parts that make it ok, if Michaels walking down a street more often than not I was half expecting just a little bit telling you what was going on in the surroundings, but alas no, you've got to make it all up in your own mind, but surprisingly thats not a bad thing...... its a good thing, because you start to make the thoughts of whats going on yourself, it adds to the individuality of each reader, I may
imagine a dog walking down the street, you may see a cat, and thats where the beauty of this book lies. * Overall * Its good, but its not great, the lack of Imagery and character descriptions does let it down a bit, but then it does let you use your own imagination, which is the benefit of reading a book, read it with an open mind and you'll enjoy it, read it with great expectations of a grand tale and you'll be sorely disappointed.
John O'farrell first came to my attention when I read his autobiograhical account about life as a Labour Party supporter called "Things Can Only Get Better" (TCOGB). He also stood for election (and lost) as a Labour candidate in the last general election.....but don't let all this put you off. As I almost injured myself laughing while reading TCOGB I thought I would have to give his next booka try although I was surprised that it was fictional and not autobiographical. Before I parted with my money I read some reviews on various online bookshops, some of which were bad and some of which were good. As a result I bought my copy along with another 2 books and left this one until last as I wasn't expecting a lot from it.... especially when I read that it was about a man who writes jingles for a living and lives down south...none of which I can relate too, but at least he was 32 and I can relate to that! Michael, the 32 year old jingle writer, leading the double life, is somewhere, between teenager and adulthood. He observes his wife's biological ability to automatically understand their children's needs, and he becomes very jealous of the attention she lavishes on their babies. He feels unneeded and neglected. She makes it clear that he is unnecessary, and frankly a bit useless, around the house. His wife is highly intelligent and beautiful, his children the love of his life. But he can't quite balance the reality of the sleepless nights, nappy changes and his own receeding hairline. So he lives in a shared house during the week, with a bunch of lads...a lazy posh PhD student, a virgin porn addict and a school teacher. He pretends to his wife that he is working hard in his music studio to pay all the bills that his family burden him with. In the UK men today can be quite confused about their role in society. This book sums it up pretty well, neither condemning or celebrating it, just having a good laugh at the absurd
ity of it all. There are also a few unexpected twists which lift the book out of the average read and a few which nearly physically left me holding my stomach and remembering how I felt when helplessy left at the mercy of a woman you love. A small cristicism is that at first it's difficult to understand if he is writing about the past or the present and the time frame is confusing but this soon gets sorted out. All in all it's an excellent read, probably more suited to a married male but I would also like to think that a few married females would also read and enjoy the book and this may help them to understand what sometimes goes on in head of the adult male.
The story of a thirty-something father who leads a double life to try and re-live his youth.