Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: The Stag and Hen Weekend

By Becky Gulc

"One couple. Two weekends. And you’re invited to both." And you really are with Mike Gayle’s latest novel, "The Stag and Hen Weekend." This is the story of Phil and Helen, a couple in their thirties who’ve been together for years. After many an unaccepted marriage proposal, they’re finally engaged and soon approaching what should be the happiest day of their lives. Before they do, they have to get through their respective stag and hen weekends, a doddle right?

This book is unique in that it’s divided into two separate stories. The reader can choose to join Phil and his friends on the stag do in Amsterdam first....or they can opt to join Helen and her friends on the spa break in a grand country house in the Peak District first, take your pick! It’s very cleverly written so that you can read one half without anything integral being given away which would spoil your enjoyment of the other half. I loved the premise of this book, and I loved the bright cover(s), I wanted to dive straight in.

I decided to go on the Stag do first, and I say ‘go on’ because I did feel like I was in Amsterdam with them. Phil is instantly likeable, a good man who loves Helen with all his heart, the problem is he’s not completely convinced Helen feels the same. I enjoyed the pace of Phil’s story, the escapism to Amsterdam, the escapades, which were comical at times. The story acknowledged there is more to Amsterdam than the stereotypical legal highs and prostitution, as someone who visited Amsterdam on a trip round Europe once I enjoyed being transported back to places like Vondelpark.

As part of Phil’s story a woman who he and Helen both have an important connection with emerges, and Phil finds himself having to spend time with her over the weekend to try and get some of his longstanding questions answered which could have implications for his future. If I was one of Phil’s friends, I wouldn’t have been very happy with the amount of time he spends away from the other stags if I’d forked out for the trip, but I guess it was key for the story development!

I also enjoyed Helen’s hen do although it didn’t feel as much fun as Amsterdam. That could have been related to having read Phil’s story first; I didn’t think I would like Helen even though he adores her. Thankfully I was wrong; I did find Helen a likeable character and her best friend Yaz too. The appearance of Aiden, Helen’s celebrity DJ ex, causes no end of problems. He’s the one who hurt her so many years ago she questions whether she ever really got over him. This creates some interesting twists along the way. I thought Helen’s story really picked up towards the end, I was frustrated with her at points and felt like I’d been led up the garden path a bit in terms of getting to know a character, but without wanting to say too much I was satisfied with the ending, and I did shed a few tears.

The fact that you can read either one of the stories first means that Mike obviously had a challenge on his hands not to give the ending away when you’re midway through. I finished Phil’s story thinking, now what? I was convinced there must be a separate section in the middle for reading after both stories which would tie everything up. There wasn’t. Both endings are a little ambiguous and it’s left up to the reader to decide what they think happens next. Whilst some people might find that extremely frustrating, and I did a little bit, overall I enjoyed the experience of reading the two separate stories enough to accept this. And if the ending is in my head, it can be whatever I want it to be! Mind you, I’d be intrigued to see if the characters crop up in another of Mike’s novels. There are also a few inter-connected characters and stories between the two different parties which makes the stories all the more interesting when you read the each part, again this is cleverly done so nothing gets spoilt in my opinion. My only real criticism is that there were a few typos that could have been avoided.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and I think the fact that it was in a different format to the norm made a difference. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another Mike Gayle book.

Whilst I’m here, I thought I’d share this little trailer for the novel that’s on Mike Gayle's blog. I always find it interesting to see how books are being newly promoted nowadays and I quite like it!

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