Books: A double helping of hype

Come Together by Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rhys Arrow, pounds 5.99, 292pp; Could this be the first book to tell a love story from both points of view in turn? Er... Sean French seems to recall that it was done in 1748
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YOU CAN win awards for the best novel of the year, best first novel, even best second novel, but if there were an award for the Deal of the Year, then Come Together would win it hands down. Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees, authors of one previous novel each, had the sparky notion of writing a novel together but separately. It would be a love story in alternating chapters with Lloyd telling it from the girl's point of view and Rees from the boy's.

This is far from being "the first novel to tell both sides of the story" as the blurb puts it. Samuel Richardson's masterpiece, Clarissa, made devastating use of the technique in the middle of the 18th century, in the form of letters that Clarissa and the rake Lovelace write to confidants.

Still, the structure has a certain novelty value and the authors have been shrewder still. The story is, needless to say, boy meets girl, but it's not just any boy and any girl. There is an apparently insatiable craving for Bridget Jones-like and Nick Hornby-like books. What if you had Bridget and Nick in the same book? What if you had a girl trying to cut down on cigarettes, worrying about her weight, frustrated in her job and desperate for a man meeting a guy who is all laddish and having lots of affairs but this facade, this fear of commitment, just hides an intense capacity for emotion?

The pastiche is so cheerfully brazen as to be rather endearing. On the first page of Josie Lloyd's first chapter, Amy Rees is staring in the bathroom mirror, on page two she describes herself as a warthog and on the phone to her best mate; on page three she's worried about not having sex for six months (with a joke about her hymen growing back that is funny, but I think Kathy Lette made it first), and on page four she's smoking a cigarette, having given up for 20 minutes.

Emlyn Rees's style as Jack Rossiter is Nick Hornby Behaving Badly with a touch of early Martin Amis. The first sex scene between Jack and Amy could politely be described as a detailed homage to the first sex scene between Charles and Rachel in Amis's The Rachel Papers.

The story is just Mills and Boon with grunge veneer. Jack and Amy meet, have sex, gradually fall in love, though Jack has difficulty in expressing this because he's a bloke and scared of commitment. But just at the moment when he's acknowledging his feelings, enter Bad Girl, who provokes him into a very peculiar act of forced infidelity. He confesses and Amy breaks off with him. Both are heartbroken and the question in the final chapters is whether love can find a way.

The reason I am reviewing this book is that I have written collaborative novels myself, with my wife Nicci Gerrard, under the inspired pen-name of Nicci French. Obviously, we write completely different kinds of books. Nicci and I are trying for a single, seamless narrative, and we're happiest when we hear from readers who didn't even know that Nicci French is a non-existent schizophrenic hermaphrodite.

The point of Come Together is for the narrative voices to clash and contradict. Readers should not expect any tricky narrative games: this isn't Rashomon. Jack tells a certain part of the story, then Amy takes it over for a while, then Jack continues.

One fairly amusing transition happens right in the middle of the first sex scene, but for the most part it is remarkable how little the authors exploit the comic possibilities of the form. "He can't read her mind. She can't read his," the blurb promises. You expect misinterpretations, partial explanations, prudent deceptions, but the comedy largely consists of one character not knowing something about the other, then knowing it.

This is not a book that does anything more than tell you things about men and women you've read elsewhere. It flatters its main characters and reassures its readers, but there's a cheerfulness even about its third- handedness. Come Together reads as if it were a laugh to write, but that's not necessarily a compliment.