Michael lives a life of ease in the north of England with his extraordinarily beautiful girlfriend. His job may be boring but it's not exactly demanding. He is almost resigned to the fact that his older brother, Robert, is a constant irritant, a bully and a show-off. However, he is blissfully unaware that his life is on the verge of changing, in quite dramatic ways.
You know a book has you in its clutches when you start shouting at the characters, and I shouted at Michael on more than one occasion. He's an affable rather lazy guy who I can easily picture at the start of the book sitting at his desk at work idly staring out the window feeling mildly surprised that this is adult life. In contrast Robert is a larger-than-life character who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it - whether that's a woman or a drink. Although Robert is the more dramatic character, my allegiance remains firmly with Michael, hence the shouting. Michael's relationships with his friends and with the women in his life are well drawn, but I think it's the complex relationship between the brothers that really drives the narrative. An early flashback to a shocking scene in a swimming pool extends the sibling rivalry theme to include father and son relationships, and leads to an exploration of whether you can ever change your nature.
There are many memorable scenes in this book, filled with description and dialogue that rings true. I'd like to pick out a couple of my favourites. One is a wedding reception chock-full of dancing and drunken conversations over the music. The other is a terribly poignant and rather grim Christmas Day that Michael spends with his parents, where the sheer effort to get through the bleak day is conveyed so effectively. In addition, some of the brief almost off-the-cuff lines really strike home. I love the one where Michael says that stories about his brother are 'issued in tireless vocal-runs, typeset by the boozy breath of a hundred pub regulars'.
I'm not sure how I've got so far into this review without mentioning how funny this book is. A dark humour runs through the story, and the author successfully captures the absurdity of the workplace with its idiotic practices, time-wasting emails, and the tedium of going 'through the motions of going through the motions'.
The authentic characters and the style of writing combine to give me the satisfying read I'm always looking for.
I'd like to thank the author for sending me a review copy.