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This review is for the paperback book Stretch 29 by Damian Lanigan. The book was published ten years ago, although I have just discovered it! The author has written two books, this one and The Chancers, and is also the writer of the BBC television programme Massive which stars Ralf Little (best known for his role as Antony in The Royle Family).
The basic plot of the book is that twenty nine year old Frank Stretch has a dull life, and has taken to rating everyone's life out of 100. He scores 29 himself, with his best friend Tom reaching 73 and his flat-mate scoring 59. Of all the people he knows, his score is the lowest of all, so he wants to change things.
The whole scoring process, in this case based on ten different criteria, sex life, health, employment, money, friends, status and so on, has been used quite a lot, especially in the chick-lit novels of the time of this book's publication. However, the observations are humorous enough, and still remain applicable and relevant today. The book does approach its content with quite a dry and black humour though, which might not be for everyone.
The structure of the book is to look at each of the different criteria in turn and measure Frank's life against others. He feels that everyone is doing so much better and wants to do much better for himself, as he is tired of not having enough money and not having a stable relationship. However, the plans he makes in life are rarely successful and he soon discovers that his friends continue to do much better than he is.
For me, this was an enjoyable book to read and I'd recommend it. It is a bit formulaic looking back on it, but is still humorous and there are lots of parts where you can identify with the situation that the lead character is in. Once I got into the book, I was able to complete it quite quickly, as the humour did mean that the book became a bit of a page turner!
I did wonder why the author had written this book and then only one more novel, but I found an on-line interview with him, which stated that he wrote the book and was then handed a two book deal by the publishers, so he felt obligated to write the second book. Instead of writing more however, he decided instead to move onto writing plays, as he wanted writing which was more serious and dealt with different subjects. So the lack of novels isn't necessarily a reflection of how successful, or not, the publisher thought they were!
The book is currently out of print, but is available second hand for just three pounds including postage on sites such as Amazon and eBay. The book was originally published by Harper Collins of London in 2000 and the ISBN is 0006514286.
In summary, the book does feel like it is from London in the late 1990s, which is when it was set, which looking at this book now does add something to the content. It's very readable, and slightly disappointing that this was the debut novel, and only one more has followed since. However, it's easy to pick up cheaply, and worth a look if you're looking for a humorous read with a dry outlook on life.
As Harry Hill says "You've gotta have a system!". Well, Frank Stretch has a system. A system designed to determine exactly how successful the people that he meets are. Specifically, a system designed to show how much of a loser Frank is compared to his friends and colleagues! This book is about a self confessed loser on his way down to the bottom and his eventual recovery and rise. Its about Francis Dean Stretch (The eponymous 'Stretch') and his relationships with friends and at work. A large part of the story is taken up by his scoring system (Also known as 'The Maths') which rates people according to 10 different criteria, the final score giving a percentage style success rate. The criteria are things like Wheels, Money, Popular, Sex, Work and all the other things that most people think/worry about. Fairly early on in the book there is a chapter dedicated to the maths and Stretch' own score. Not only does this give the reader all the information they need about the system, but its also a clever way of introducing the character and his supposed failings. It introduces the system to us, and then uses it throughout the book. This gives you a real insight into his perception of the people that he meets/knows and really helps you to picture the characters. Once the maths is out of the way, its time to introduce and progress the plot. The book is basically about Franks score starting off low and getting even lower, until he hits rock bottom. We learn about his job as a manager at a yuppie restaurant and his friends, all of who are more successful then Frank (Generally by a lot!). Along the way he meets new people and gets involved in some crazy situations. We also learn about some of his bizarre hobbies, like the fact that when he's feeling depressed he writes an obituary for himself as a much more important and successful person! I'd write more about the situations and the trouble he gets into,
but I don't want to give too much away. This book is excellent. When I started reading I have to admit that it didn't particularly grab my attention. However, after I'd got a few chapters in, it really started to flow and I couldn't put it down! There are some hilarious situations in the book, one of my particular favourites being when Stretch has to deal with a bunch of drunk estate agents at his restaurant. However its not all fun and games, there are also some moving scenes and some very well observed ideas. The obituaries that Stretch writes for himself are entertaining, but there is also the undercurrent of misery, the way that he writes about being dead and famous when he's depressed. The ending isn't an unrealistic happy ending, but it does finish the story in an upbeat way. All in all, a class book.
Frank Stretch has reached a rock bottom of 29 points..... This massively enjoyable book follows the fortunes of Frank Stretch, a graduate under-achiever. His unique scoring system where he scores his life out of 100 through ten different catergories, shows that with his meagre score of 29 that he needs to work on some areas in his life. I found this very enjoyable and finished it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down, its not an epic but it definitely some light hearted "read on the train on a morning monday" stuff that will make you laugh and it might even lead you to you scoring your own life....... just be prepared for your score!
Frank Stretch is 29 years old, hugely unsuccessful and almost proud of it! By his own scoring system in the important areas of life (money, love, sex, work etc.) he scores an abysmal 29 points out of a possible 100. Although actually an Oxford graduate, Frank failed to settle into journalism and ended up as manager of a small restaurant. Unable to keep up with his more successful friends, he develops a life of drifting and lethargy until he decides to make a fresh start. His plans, however, are thwarted not only by other people but also by his own thoughtless actions. The story is very funny and full of irony and jibes at the middle-class life which Frank has failed to attain. Despite some of his own antisocial behaviour, it is difficult not to emphasise with Frank and to be hopeful that he will eventually "make it". Stretch 29 is the first novel by Damian Lanigan, and in common with many other new novels, it is told from the male perspective. This, combined with its considerable humour, makes it a very entertaining read.
Frank Stretch rates everyones life - his best friend scores 75, Frank himself just 29. A humorous tale of a modern-day loser.