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The Third Party, by Harry Ritchie
When fatherhood, divorce and redundancy wipe the smiles off lads' faces
Tuesday 05 September 2006
Chick lit came of age when its girlie heroines became mothers, got divorced and moved to the countryside. Lad lit has also arrived at middle age but, as Harry Ritchie's latest novel shows, the boys aren't yet ready for Bupa medicals and second wives.
Ritchie's two male narrators are lost souls. The 39-year-old Ewan has been left by his wife and ousted from the company that he helped to found. Leaving behind his chic Shoreditch loft, he buys a flat in Dalston and decides to watch a lot of television. His downstairs neighbour - an ageing hippie called Grassy - persuades him to smoke a lot of dope, and his best friend Russell introduces him to a backlist of surprisingly obliging females.
For Richard, redundancy is a different story, and, like the end of his marriage, something he doesn't see coming. An editor on an uninspiring trade magazine, Bricks and Brickmen, he spends his working life missing his baby son, "Bongle Boy", and fantasising about Ali, his increasingly distant wife. Ewan's and Richard's love lives are united by a series of pratfalls that push both to the further limits of the men-behaving-badly spectrum.
Often set in some of media-land's better-known watering holes, Ritchie's portrait of metrosexual shenanigans is affectionate and well-observed. Ewan's misdemeanours include lascivious acts with women in White Company dressing gowns, and the start of an unlikely new career as a south-London drugs baron. Meanwhile, back at home, Richard abandons himself to father-son love-ins, with Tony Parsons-style reveries on the cuteness of Bongle's sleep suits, cowlick and "liquid blue" eyes.
While Ritchie is clued up on locker-room banter and nursery-school ditties, his first-person monologues fall flat: a problem, as large parts of the book are streams of blokeish consciousness. The narrative picks up when Richard stops talking long enough to enjoy an illicit shag - a one-off indiscretion that plays into the hands of his less-than-faithful wife.
This novel offers humorous insights into the state of modern manhood, but it's hard to see it having cross-gender appeal - something to which lad lit still aspires. Even the cluckiest of females will lose patience with yet another Bongle nappy change, and not many men will be too enthralled either.
In the end, popular fiction doesn't work without a Mr Darcy lurking in the wings. As veterans of the chick-lit genre might tell Richard and Ewan, it's time to settle for Mrs Nice.
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