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If I am looking for a light and entertaining read then I am always happy to pick up any of Mike Gayle's books. His novels are always amusing and provide a fabulous insight into a lad's point of view. In his latest book, 'The Stag and Hen Weekend', the readers still gets this but they are also treated to the female perspective too. To be honest, this is really two books in one as the reader is invited along on both Helen's hen weekend at a country spa and Phil's stag weekend in Amsterdam. This couple have been together about ten years and finally after turning down Phil's numerous proposals, Helen finally popped the question herself. Helen has quite a bit of emotional baggage though especially as she nearly made it to the altar once before until she discovered what a lying cheat her former fiancé really was. Not that that is likely to be the case with Phil though who she knows really loves her.
There is no actual front or back cover with' The Stag and Hen Weekend'. Instead one side is pink and the other is blue. Open the book on the pink side and you join Helen's weekend but if you turn over and up the other way on the blue side, you will end up in Amsterdam with Phil. Both stories, upside down to each other meet in the middle of the book. Therefore, when you first pick up the book, you have a decision to make - who's weekend do you read about first?
I opted to read about Helen's weekend first. She and her friends head off to the countryside for a luxurious spa weekend. Things start off well and the girls have a great weekend drinking, laughing and reminiscing. Unfortunately, things start going a bit pear shaped when Helen bumps into Aiden, her first love and the man who cheated on her just before they were going to be married. Things get worse when Caitlin, Helen's soon to be sister-in-law arrives and is as unfriendly and interfering as usual. By the end of the weekend, Helen's mind is in complete turmoil and it's anyone's guess whether she will actually go ahead with the wedding either.
Things are no better with Phil's stag do in Amsterdam either. He never really wanted this weekend anyway and would have much preferred a few pints at his local followed by a curry. All of his mates, however, are determined to party and when his ageing hippy father turns up that can only mean trouble. Like Helen's. Phil's weekend does not turn out quite the way he expected especially when he bumps into a young woman with whom he has more in common than he first realises. He also starts to have serious doubts about the following weekend's forthcoming ceremony.
Both stories end at the finish of the weekends so the reader never gets to find out whether the wedding will go ahead but I would like to think that the signs are promising. Perhaps Mike Gayle is already planning the sequel! I very much hope so as I really wanted to know what happened next!
I really enjoyed 'The Stag and Hen Weekend' and found both stories really entertaining and a lot of fun. Mike Gayle has created some great characters and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about both groups' antics. There were the typical stag and hen capers and more than a few hangovers each morning. It's a very light read and would make great holiday reading.
Although I enjoyed both stories, I think I might have preferred it if they had been interspersed with each other and therefore I would not have had to decide which one to read first. Also, it would have been easier to follow the parallel movements of the two groups. This is just a small personal criticism and in other ways it was a good idea to make two separate stories.
Overall though, 'The Stag and Hen Weekend' is a fabulous read and I think that once again Mike Gayle has written a winning book! I would definitely recommend it.
I am very grateful to the publishers for sending me a review copy.
THi9s review has previously appeared under my name at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
The Stag and Hen Weekend is the story of Phil and Helen, a couple in their thirties about to commit their lives to one another . . . that is of course if they can just manage to get through their respective stag and hen weekends (his: Amsterdam; hers: a country house and day spa in the Peak District) without falling apart. Told in the unique form of two separate stories that have common characters as well as themes and conclusion, The Stag and Hen Weekend can be read from front to back or from back to front putting the reader in the driver's seat as to which story they wish to read first...
I've never actually read one of Mike Gayle's books before, but the concept of this book really interested me and I couldn't wait to get stuck in and see what it was all about. The idea of a novel being split in half was great, and I was curious how Gayle would be able to bring these two stories together and create a novel out them, without making them just 2 short stories that just happened to be linked by the fact the main characters were a couple. It's a really good looking book too, with 2 separate covers, a pink one for the Hen weekend story, and a navy blue for the Stag weekend one, and it's entirely up to you which you read first. I decided to go with ladies first, and after reading both can safely say you can start with either, but that the men's story was far more interesting!
As I said, I began with the girl's story so I will talk about that one first. Helen is marrying Phil, and to celebrate, she's going on a luxury spa weekend break with her nearest and dearest friends. However, Helen is starting to feel a bit wobbly about their impending nuptials, but doesn't want to disclose it to anyone. Moreover, when she meets someone at the hotel from her past, she's wondering if Phil really isn the man for her. While I liked reading the Hen Weekend story, I couldn't help but feel that it was a little bit dull and I found myself getting a bit too bored for my liking. Helen was okay, but I just didn't like her very much, and that didn't change as her story progressed and things occured. I wonder if Gayle being a man writing about a very girly weekend away hindered the story somewhat, as there was just something not quite right about it and I didn't find it all that readable!
However, I found the Stag Weekend story to be far more interesting and readable. It tells the tale of Phil and his mates on a weekend to Amsterdam to get ready for his wedding to Helen. Phil loves Helen and can't wait to marry her, but is worried she's having second thoughts. Therefore he decides to go to Amsterdam anyway, and try and enjoy the weekend. He doesn't, however, bank of meeting someone that is important to both him and Helen, and things spinning out of control. I liked Phil as a character, he was really well written and a believable male lead for the book. I was wanting to shout at him for some of his decisions because I knew he was making bad choices, but enjoyed the way the story progressed and things changed between Phil and the other characters in the book. The things the lads get up are typical Stag night things, and it was fun to read about, much more so than the Hen Weekend ones, again perhaps because Gayle just found it easier and more comfortable to write confidently about the male characters?
One thing that really did pull this book down for me was the ambiguous endings. I was wondering how Gayle would be able to pull off an ending because of the fact you could read either book first, and therefore the ending might be spoilt, but I'm someone who really likes things ended properly, all endings tied up in a bow and there being no real question marks. However, nothing is tied up here, it's left up in the air about what Phil and Helen are going to do and it left me frustrated. I wanted to know what Phil's decision would be and whether Helen would be disappointed, but nothing was clear. Also, there was no real interaction between the pair in the book due to the nature of the story, and therefore it was hard to root for them as a couple because we, as a reader, simply don't know how good they are together and whether they should be together. Therefore, it did end up feeling like 2 short stories that had been lumped together to create a novel, and I can't say it worked for me. Yes, I enjoyed the tales of the weekends, especially the Stag weekend, but other things just didn't work and I wouldn't personally go to read another book in this format, I'm much more a longer novel kinda gal!
ISBN: 978-1444742824. Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 2nd February 2012. Pages: 416. RRP: £12.99. Also available as an eBook.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitchloe.blogspot.com
Thank you for reading.