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Book review: <i>The Best A Man Can Get</i> by John O'Farrell

Book review: The Best A Man Can Get by John O'Farrell

the cover of the book

If this was a razor, it would be a Gillette Mach 3 disposable.


A couple of stock photos, 45 minutes of Photoshop and some boring text. I hope it wasn't expensive.


I'm ashamed to say that I've already forgotten the main character's name, so let's call him John. John loves his wife, their toddler and new-born baby. Unfortunately, like most honest parents, he doesn't love them enough not to want to get the hell away from them on a regular basis. Unlike most parents, John actually achieves this by working in a music studio on the other side of town, which is, unbeknownst to his wife, also a flat shared with three guys. Here he spends half his marriage living the life of a twenty-nine year old single man. Minus the sex. Well, you have to have standards, don't you?

The good

It's not a bad plot nubbin, this double life tomfoolery. Written from John's perspective, I suspect this may represent a parallel-Earth version of a certain time in the author's life. If not, he deserves bonus points for accurately capturing the male rationalisation gland in overdrive - its natural mode within the twenty-first century underachiever. John's secondary housemates also represent various aspects of masculine mediocrity - slothful dilettante, overwound metrosexual, socially crippled nerd. The way we think of John as their senior because of his responsibilities (and despite his failure to execute them), although he isn't, really, casually illustrates the fact that gender roles are more than just something for lefty femmos to whinge about. But it's John's self-assembled conviction that partitioning part of his life off from those who love him is actually to their benefit is most telling.

There are moments of real humour and wise-crackery to remind the reader of O'Farrell's sketch-writing past. He's also worked them into a plot which has something impressively raw at its centre, ie the slippery role of the modern father. When John makes the case that his sporadic absences, at worst, still trump his own dad's divorce slash running off with another woman, it's hard to disagree, particularly given the massive upswing in divorce rates between the two events. As a child, would you prefer a father who tucks you in every second night with a smile on his face, or a semi-stranger you visit monthly in circumstances which would make a surprise rent inspection feel like shiatsu?

Yet, of course, these are just more lies John tells himself to compensate for his desperate clutching at an unfairly shortened adolescence. The fact that he's feeling this at twenty-nine says more about our generation than I'd like it to.

Oh, and I enjoyed this scene, emblematic of mood if not quality: During one of John's absentee phases, he finds himself blissed on beer and sunshine at a barbecue in a park. After impressing a gaggle of his housemates' young friends with his guitar skills, he wanders into some trees to piss. In the moment of meditation all men are thus granted he sees his two-year-old daughter wandering happily alone. Deftly, he tricks her into returning to her mother without revealing himself, but then, from his hide, watches the woman he claims to love collapse beneath the weight of responsibilities he has convinced himself absolved from.

The bad

If you'll forgive a comparison or two, this doesn't even approach , despite its exploration of some similar themes, and regardless of whether or not you like James Bond. In terms of fun it fails to match Ben Elton's Inconceivable, despite some superior scenes. The other, less fair comparison involves Clive James' mercilessly competent new book Cultural Amnesia, which is making it hard to maintain my pretence towards critical writing. It's also forcing me to acknowledge that, for pleasure or otherwise, I read far too much average bollocks, which I'm afraid is the bin in which The Best A Man Can Get lands. Shows promise, is not bereft of wit - the advertising slogans as chapters - see title - is neat, and there's an original running joke which deftly illustrates that, for all modernity, during a birth, husbands are still purposeless appendages. But you aren't missing anything by not reading this. I doubt it would even give the average lady reader much insight into the male psyche; they are already well aware of our advanced self-delusory capacity, thankyou very much.

What I learnt

That small children make boring company. I would have thought you'd be too stressed to get bored, but I guess not.
That an off-hand comment by comedian Richard Stubbs seems to be spot-on, ie, being a father means you have to just throw yourself in head first, or you'll never get there.

In short

Title: The Best A Man Can Get
Author: John O'Farrell
Publisher: Broadway
ISBN: 0767907140
Year published: 2002
Pages: 272
Genre(s): Fiction, Humour

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

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