Girlfriend 44

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When a literary agent read Mark Barrowcliffe’s article urging the withholding of sympathy from men dumped by their girlfriends, she encouraged him to write a novel, and Girlfriend 44 is the hilarious result. Thirty-two-year-old Harry Chesshyre has worked his way through forty-three lovers and thinks he knows everything about women. Little does he know that his heart is about to be broken.

Harry, a researcher for a consumer-advice television program, lives with Gerrard, a paramedic. Harry is a confident swaggerer, Gerrard is gloomy and insecure, but both share the same expectations from the women they date: perfection in mind and body. The highly imperfect Gerrard even has a list of qualities of physique and personality that repel him. Harry and Gerrard live in an unrepentant perpetual adolescence and proudly belong to what Harry calls the born-again-sexism set.

Their puerile perspective is challenged when they meet the wonderfully perfect Alice, the most beautiful woman Harry has ever seen. Alice, who licenses worldwide television rights, is immediately pursued by both men who do everything they can to sabotage each other. She agrees to date both before settling into a relationship with the overweight Harry whom she inexplicably, to him, perceives as cool. The reader is kept in suspense for the last half of the novel waiting to see how Harry will foul up.

Girlfriend 44 works because of its consistently self-deprecating tone. Not only is Barrowcliffe poking fun at his characters but Harry, who narrates and often addresses the reader directly, sees himself as a more than slightly ridiculous figure. This mocking humor makes the novel a delightful entertainment.