Girlfriend 44

Mark Barrowcliffe, Author
Mark Barrowcliffe, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-26166-5
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-312-28768-9
Hardcover - 498 pages - 978-0-7472-6814-7
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""You are not perfect,"" explains the laddish, caddish Harry Chesshyre to his 43rd girlfriend, Emily, in the break-up letter that opens this Machiavellian relationship comedy. Throughout his quest for the perfect mate, the 32-year old Harry maintains a stable, committed relationship with his flatmate, the finicky, repressed Gerrard. When their ultra-womanizing friend, Farley, apparently commits suicide over a love object named Alice, they both decide that she is the only one for them. Their farcical no-holds-barred competition for her, including a drunken pub crawl after Farley's funeral, counterbalances Harry's romancing of Alice as he realizes she might be ""the one."" Throughout, the witty, loquacious Harry serves as a mouthpiece for over-the-top opinions about men and women, sex and love. While Barrowcliffe's style is thoroughly British, his cynical insights into the single male mind are universal, such as his Maxim-esque tactics for hitting on girls: e.g., Mr. Listener, Search and Destroy, or the Mallory Principle: sleeping with your best friend's ex-girlfriend for the same reason as one would climb Everest (""Because it's there""). Where the novel falters is just where Harry does--that is, in its inability to comprehend Alice as a person, not just perfection personified. The other female principal, Lydia, while a witty foil to Harry and Gerrard, is similarly one-dimensional. Although this debut doesn't have the characterization depth of Nick Hornby's novels--and Barrowcliffe's humor is far more misanthropic--American readers will still find Harry's romantic misadventures amply entertaining. (Jan. 7) Forecast: The current rage for cynical romantic comedies from across the pond should help propel sales. That Ron Howard has already bought the film rights also bodes well.
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