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For some reason, the male version of "chick-lit" never really took off. "Bloke-lit" hasn't sold in the way the genre's big sister has done. Maybe we men don't like admitting we have emotions, or maybe we're just too busy watching football in the pub to read a book. It's a shame, as there are some decent authors working in the genre. Mike Gayle is perhaps the best known, but I've just discovered another who is a worthy addition to the genre.
Barry Brooks isn't having a terribly good day. He thought he was, with a great new job on the horizon and having just completed the Three Peaks Challenge, but his girlfriend isn't as excited at his achievement as he thought she would be. When he gets home, he discovers why; she's packed up the entire contents of the home they shared and has left him, turning all his friends against him in the process. Worse is to come when his parents are killed in an accident and his new job turns out not to offer the bright future he anticipated.
Barry's life becomes something of a rollercoaster ride. For everything good that happens to him, something bad is usually not too far behind. Unfortunately for Barry, the lows seem to be lower than the highs are high. He's also getting some strange people coming into his life, some of them giving him cryptic messages and even going so far as claiming to be his long dead grandfather. Barry doesn't know what's happening to his life and nothing that happens seems to be helping him understand it any better.
Seen through Barry's eyes, his life veers from the normal to the strange on an almost daily basis. One minute he seems to be settled and things are going well, but the next he's mired in confusion trying to figure out the latest set of strange events to engulf him. With Barry being largely off balance, the reader is also left largely off balance as well. When the ending came, I realised I should have seen it coming, but I was so caught up in Barry's confusion that, much like Barry himself, I didn't spot it until it was way too late. It was a masterful piece of storytelling by Ledwon, leaving the answer in plain sight, but disguising it beautifully.
It's very easy to get caught up in the story and the major part of the reason for this is that Barry could be any one of us. Most of us have jobs, many have partners, some will have gone through the pain of losing our parents and most through the pain of a relationship ending. In many ways, Ledwon is telling us our own life story and even if it's not a life we'd be entirely happy living, it's close enough to the real thing to be able to relate to.
Adding to this realism is that Barry's life isn't too extraordinary that it takes the edge off the story. Too many novels in the genre have characters with too much time on their hands; meeting friends for coffee or extended lunches and whose employers seemingly don't care if they're at work or not. Barry doesn't have that luxury and so is at work when he should be and doesn't have free time he shouldn't have. Indeed, apart from the strange things that keep happening to him, his life gives the appearance of being quite dull and ordinary, which also helped to blind me to the reason behind events.
The pace of the story is deceptively high. It's only really a snippet of real life and there's not an awful lot going on compared to some stories, but Ledwon manages to make things pass a lot quicker than you would expect. The whole story seems like watching life with the fast forward button pressed; the story flashes by and scenes and circumstances change before you realise it. This meant that reading the book felt like the pages were turning on fast forward as well and it's a masterful piece of pacing that only helps the book seem better.
If there is one negative aspect, it's in Barry's job. Initially it seems to fit in with the realism, but it does become one of the few unrealistic aspects of the story. With the rest of the story being so real, it does stand out and it stretches disbelief so far that I could almost hear it snap. It's a rare poor moment in what is a wonderful story and fortunately it's only a minor part, so it didn't impact severely on my enjoyment of the book.
What Ledwon has done here is combined ordinary life with extraordinary circumstances and turned it into something wonderful. With Barry being so completely ordinary is virtually every way, this story really shouldn't be as readable or as addictive as it is. Ledwon has given us a literary cake; the end product is tastier than any of the individual ingredients. The early pages give no real hint of what is to come and the reader is hooked before you realise it. It's wonderfully done in virtually every way and I'm certainly going to be watching for Ledwon's name with interest in future. Although it's still quite expensive for a purchase, with a cheapest price of £6.44 from the Amazon Marketplace, Ledwon's name is still one worth looking out for at present as well, especially if you can find a copy in your local library.