Half a World Away by Mike Gayle

half worldMike Gayle concentrates on relationships and their difficulties.

Meeting new people.
Falling in love.
Trying to maintain love.
Falling out of love.
Love of girl or boyfriend.
Love of husband or wife.
Love of children.
Love of family.
And the heartbreak when that love ends or is not reciprocated.

He manages to capture and communicate the familiar, things with which I strongly identify.

Sleepless nights when the mundane and insignificant becomes exaggerated in importance:

In the dark everything seems so much worse than it really is; even the smallest thing seems like a mountain you’ve got to climb. I tried telling myself that I was just tired, blowing things out of all proportion, and that everything would seem better in the morning, but what use is that when the morning’s so far away?

In the middle of the night, waiting for daylight feels like forever, a forever where you’re stuck going over every bad thought in your head with a fine-tooth comb.

Or those times of self-doubt, feeling that your intentions may be misunderstood, and that no matter what you say, or how you say it, it will be misinterpreted and received in the wrong way.

I reread the message twice. It looks okay to me but I think about sending it to Jodi to check it over for me, just to be on the safe side. In the end I tell myself not to be so silly, read it through one last time just to make sure it makes sense, and then press send.
For a minute I feel good.
Then for another I’m sick with nerves.
Then for another after that, I’m convinced I’ve said the wrong thing.

mike gaylePerhaps its this familiarity in Gayle’s stories that gives me a feeling of authenticity through which I can believe in the characters and their experiences.

There are some complex and difficult relationships in Half a World Away. Noah Martineau’s marriage is breaking apart. He is reunited with Kerry, a sister he didn’t know he had. And he’s forced to face the forgotten past he’d tried to avoid.

Despite feeling a little exasperated by the apparent unreasonableness of one character, I had to recognise such characteristics ARE displayed by real people in real life, and conflict isn’t always rational: ultimately that’s something the particular character comes to recognise for themself.

I’ve been a Mike Gayle fan for a couple of decades (and maybe more).
I can always rely on him for an entertaining, moving, page-turning reading experience; often with at least a hint of humour.

There’s an intentional simplicity to Gayle’s writing. He writes with clarity, not obscuring the story and his characters with complex language to show off authorial cleverness.

While I can enjoy poetic wordsmith authors who can demonstrate a clever evocative turn of phrase, if their kind of books were all that were available, I think my love of reading would eventually fade.
Mike Gayle is an author I confidently turn to when I need to rekindle that love.



Author photo from: https://www.hachette.com.au/mike-gayle/

For more see his website: mikegayle.co.uk

The Man x 2

Two books about “the man”.

think i knowThe Man I Think I Know is a novel by one of my most reliable, favourite authors. Mike Gayle always guarantees me a good, page turning read.
His books aren’t suspenseful thrillers, they are set in real life, everyday situations with strong relatable characters. This must be around his sixteenth book, and I’ve enjoyed them all.

Danny has no desire to work, but after losing his unemployment benefits he takes a job as a carer in a “residential care home”.

James was a successful, wealthy business man, just starting out on a political career when “the incident” undermined everything and left him completely dependent on his parents.

The two men meet when James enters the care home to give his parents a short break. Despite Danny’s denial, James is sure he knows him from their school years.

A growing friendship between the two leads each of them to come to terms with the tragic events that shaped the direction of their lives.


golden touchThe Man With the Golden Touch by Sinclair McKay is a critical study of the James Bond films. McKay compares them to the Ian Fleming books upon which they were loosely based, as well as looking at the cultural context within which the films were created.

He not only writes about every Bond film released up to the time of publication, he compares/contrasts them with other spy fiction and films, some of which were a clear exploitative response to the success of Bond.

As someone who had read all of the Bond books by the time I reached my teens, I enjoyed reading someone else’s views on the character.

McKay’s initial Bond experiences were mostly through the films, where mine were through the books. By the time I’d read all of Fleming’s books and another, Colonel Sun, that Kingsley Amis wrote under the pseudonym Robert Markham, I’d only seen three of the films.

Dr No and From Russia With Love were the first, screened as a double feature at  a local cinema when I was 10 or 11 years old.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the other, seen a year or two later. I didn’t see any others until Live and Let Die on its first cinema release when I was in my mid teens. Those first three named are perhaps the closest adaptations of Fleming’s stories and they are the films I always liked best from the series.

Most of the other films merely used the book titles and had no resemblance to the original stories. McKay looks at the reasons for that, explaining the wisdom of it. The success of the films not only depended on those changes, but also ensured the ongoing viability of keeping the Fleming books in print.

As someone who grew up with Bond, this book had a significant nostalgic appeal, but also I enjoyed its wider journey into the spy fiction and films  that inspired and was inspired by the success of Bond.

Half Girlfriend, by Chetan Bhagat

Half Girlfriend follows the complicated relationship between Madhav Jha and Riya Somani, who meet at college in Delhi.

Madhav is heir of  a faded “royal” family from a poor Indian town where his mother manages and teaches at the local impoverished school. Riya’s family is ultra-rich, a fact she finds limiting, as family and class expectations hinder her personal dreams.

Madhav falls for Riya at first sight and a shared interest in basketball gives him the hope of initiating and furthering a relationship with her; but while Riya encourages close friendship, she makes it clear that she doesn’t want a full “girlfriend-boyfriend” relationship, a situation Madhav finds hard to accept. What does Riya mean by “half girlfriend” anyway?

Through breakup, forgiveness, reconciliation and heartbreak the relationship between the two is never easy when each seems to want something different. What would it take for their situation to be resolved?

And what roles do the book’s  author (Chetan Bhagat himself) and Bill Gates play in the couple’s attempt to maintain their relationship despite their differing desires and expectations?


This is another book I found while trawling through the shelves of  a local charity shop. I’ve been looking for books by authors of non-western backgrounds because I find they give a different perspective to “western” writers.

Half Girlfriend could be included in the same kind of  category as Mike Gayle’s books: stories I can always rely on to help me overcome “reader’s block” – when I need to read a book I know I won’t be able to put down until its finished. Mike Gayle is someone I turn to when I’ve read one too many “worthy” novels and need to rediscover a love of reading for reading’s sake, when story is given priority over the author’s clever wordplay. I found this book had  a similar appeal to Gayle’s work, the main differences being its setting and the cultural background of the characters, both of which play a significant part of the story.

As evidence of how much I enjoyed the book, I chose to order a boxed set of 8 of Bhagat’s books (which includes a new copy of this one). He’s someone whose work I’d like to read beyond this one story.

In trying to find out more about his writing, I found that some of his books have been adapted into Bollywood films. Half Girlfriend seems to be the most recent adaptation. After watching the trailer (see below), I hope it’s a film that will eventually be released on DVD.

According to what I’ve read about Bhagat, his first language isn’t English, but he writes in English for a mainly Indian readership and sells far fewer copies outside of India than he does in his homeland. After reading half way through my charity-store copy I came across the receipt from the original book purchase: at an airport shop in Mumbai (for 176 Indian Rupees).

The following description of Bhagat was in the Guardian:

…the 39-year-old Punjabi is one of India’s most successful English-language novelists currently at work. Unlike Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga, however, he has not been adopted by London’s literati, anointed the “authentic” voice of the subcontinent and exported back to a fawning welcome by India’s anglophone elite. Nor is Bhagat’s phenomenal success (with six novels shifting 7 million copies) due to foreign sales and profile – of which he has very little. It’s more to do with his intimacy with lower-born Indians, whose restricted hopes, humdrum work, romantic dramas, family tensions and sense of humour he has shared and sympathises with.


The article also notes that his work has been described as “Hornby-lite”, a reference to Nick Hornby, another writer I enjoy whose work, along with Mike Gayle, has been pejoratively described as lad-lit. A term used as a comparison to “chick-lit”.

Lad Lit is a fictional genre of male-authored novels about young men and their emotional and personal lives, often characterized by a confessional and humorous writing style. The term combines the word “lad,” which refers to a boy or young man and “lit,” which is short for “literature.”








Seeing Other People, by Mike Gayle

Seeing-Other-People-jacketAfter a very dry reading year, I started 2015 with an author who has never failed me in the past: Mike Gayle. And true to form, I found Seeing Other People very hard to put down and I read it over one weekend.

It was the kind of book I needed to read, to rid myself of any idea that my interest in reading was dying, after managing to finish only 25 books last year, the lowest since I started keeping a tally at the end of 2009.

Joe Clarke is a man very much in love with his wife and children so the last thing he’d want to do is jeopardise his marriage. So why does he wake to find himself in bed with the new office intern with no memory of how he got there? And why does his ex-girlfriend keep turning up – considering he’d very recently attended her funeral? What affect will all of this have on his marriage?

Turning Forty, Mike Gayle

turning 40

On the surface Mike Gayle’s Turning Forty has nothing in common with the Stephen King book I wrote about in my previous post. But to me, both bring up the idea of alternative time lines.

In King’s novel the protagonist travels back in time and creates alternative future outcomes by changing what happens to individuals in the past.

With Gayle’s books I always find myself facing the alternative lives I could have lived, if only I had made one or two different choices when I had the opportunity.

Gayle’s characters don’t face the extreme experiences of King’s protagonists. They are more or less everyday people going through things that aren’t uncommon, struggling with career and relationships.  In part I envy his characters and their long-standing friendships, but I don’t envy the complications that arise when those friendships are tested and sometimes break.

Turning Forty is a sequel to Gayle’s earlier book Turning Thirty. I read the earlier book a few years ago but couldn’t recall the characters or their younger lives. Having read all of Gayle’s books I find it hard to remember who belongs to which story.

Each of his books follows a similar path through part of the life of a main character who spends a lot of time with friends of both genders, usually struggling to find love, and trying to determine where the line between love and friendship should be drawn. While the paths may be similar, the destinations can be significantly different and the reader can never be too sure of where the characters will find themselves at the end of each book.

The similarities in his stories give me the impression that Gayle is sharing insights into separate parts and different inhabitants of a single community. And it seems to be a community he knows well. His non-fiction book The To Do List shows how his own life has similarities to the lives of the characters in his fiction.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been close to having the multiple friendships depicted by Gayle. Maybe those relationships only come through growing up alongside others through childhood and school years, a period of life before adulthood teaches us to be more guarded.  I’ve probably had too many relocations and associated disruptions to develop and maintain the kind of friendships that Gayle depicts. If only I’d chosen a less mobile course I might have experienced friendships differently.

(for more that I’ve written about Mike Gayle see here: http://out-shadows.blogspot.co.nz/2010/12/mike-gayle-and-friends.html )