6000 Pages 2011, My Legendary Girlfriend – Mike Gayle (pages 5183-5534)

My Legendary Girlfriend

My Legendary Girlfriend was a choice driven by two criteria. I’d wanted to do another re-read and it was something light. Light because of the books I’ve got in my “queue”[1] many of them right now seem to be crime thrillers or other “darker” material. A re-read because… well sometimes it’s nice to know what you’re going to get, if you know that what you’ll get you’ll like.

Genre-wise My Legendary Girlfriend is something of an oddity. It’s a kind of male chick lit. There’s was a moment – I suppose around the time when I first read this – when I was self-consciously moving away from (only) SciFi and Fantasy and I thought this might be the genre for me. In the end I’m not sure it was, I’m not sure there were ever enough exponents of it. That’s the genre, what about the book?

My Legendary Girlfriend is the story of Will who at 26 is just starting a new job and possibly career as a teacher. This involved a move from Nottingham to London and therefore it is a real chance for a new start. Why does Will need a new start? Well three years ago he was dumped by his then girlfriend Agnes (Aggie) who he had been with for three years, and he’s still hung up on her. Or is he? Can this new start be a break from obsessing over her too?

The novel takes place over the three and a half days of Will’s first weekend in London. We see him in his grotty flat where his entertainment consists of a few pathetic meals (melted ice cream and sugar puffs being a particular low point), listening to a glib irony-free agony aunt on the radio and various phonecalls, many to the girl who lived in the flat before him. Of course interspersed with this we get the back story of his relationship with Aggie, so the conceit of it taking place over a few days in just the one place is not really true.

It’s a fun read and definitely light. I’m not sure how well it’s aged. Although it was actually fascinating to read a story set in the relatively recent past when so many things were different. Will has no mobile phone, there’s no internet, his fantasy aspirational consumer item is a “flat screen TV”. He has a VCR and travel card. The later he loses, much to his consternation because it means he’s lost the money it cost him. These days a quick phonecall or visit to a website would get his credit transferred to a new Oyster card.

But aside from a glimpse back at cultural artifacts that are so soon forgotten, is there pleasure in the story itself? Yes. I think so. Will is a little annoying at times but that’s forgiveable in one so young. There were times when you think Aggie was right to leave him, or at least you understand why she might. The plot reminds me a little of Clueless (Emma) not in any specifics but in that way you are mis-directed successfully from seeing how things will play out and who will end up with who. Of course that only works the first time. Whereas on re-watching Clueless still seems plausible not to see Cher/Josh coming, the final configuration in Girlfriend is obvious once you know it. But that’s no great sin and there is the pleasure of anticipating the final playing out of the plot.

I’d also forgotten some of the slightly darker moments which are a semi-serious reflection on starting out in life and love in your twenties. But it’s more of a light-hearted book that can occasionally do a little depth than a serious book that also does comedy. It’s not, for example, High Fidelity, even though in tone, subject matter and ambition that’s what it most closely resembles.

Not sure I’ll re-read it for another decade, unless I’m really stuck for something to read.

7/10 – a good light read, not legendary, but not forgettable either.

[1]A list which tends to change, re-arrange and always, ultimately get longer. However its mutable nature means it’s never really possible to predict what the next book in the “queue” will be.
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