By MJ Hyland.
Let me start with an aside. My copy of the book has a quote from Hilary Mantel on the front cover and it says this: "Aims straight at the truth and the heart." What does that even mean? Did Hilary just hit 'click' on a random word generator? It's not even praise! If I was Hyland I'd be swapping that with something like, "This is a terrific book" - Salman Rushdie. Or something. But I digress.
This is a book in two parts about a man who wants a hug. Part One is 147 of the best pages of a book I've read in yonks. Our asperger-y anti-hero, Oxtoby, rocks up in a seaside town after a relationship breakdown and tries to make new friends and start a new job. He says, does and thinks everything wrong. I got tense reading it, knowing he was continually fucking everything up and I wanted him to get it right, but he's some sort of mild-mannered psychopath who can't pull it together. I knew it was leading to some sort of horrible climax, but unfortunately for me that horrible climax came at the end of Part One. Part Two is 230 pages of finishing scenes and it goes all Breakback Mountain and shit. If the book was just Part One I'd be lauding it as one of the finest short novels written in years, but it's not. There's a Part Two that is kinda glued on. If it was a movie, every chapter of Part Two would feel like the movie is winding up and the credits are about to roll, and I'd be making sure I've picked up my rubbish and I have my phone with me, but then thinking, "Oh, wait, there's another scene..." It did have a terrific last chapter but. In fact, fuck Rushdie, she can put this quote on front cover of the next print run: "Great Part One and terrific last chapter" - Perseus Q.
I give it a B-minus.