With a wave of British novels soaking the shelves of bookstores - think Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones' Diary – it’s easy to fall for the shiny lure held in front of you by advertisers and publishing houses. I know because I fell for it. I was under the impression that Mike Gayle’s latest, Dinner for Two, would read a little like Nick Hornby’s popular novel About a Boy. Maybe it was because of the review on the back of the book comparing Gayle to Hornby, or perhaps it was due to my assumption that any new literature coming out of England would be both satirical and provocative. Either way, I was wrong. Five pages into the story my bubble of expectation had popped.
It’s not that Dinner is the worse piece of fiction ever. I’m sure there are plenty of novels holding that title. The thing is, it is just entirely too predictable and simple; a combination that will weaken any novel at the knees. And though I am not a math genius, I do know that when you take a basic plot, add vague characters, and divide by clichés, it won’t equal a classic. What you end up getting here is a slow novel that barely holds your attention. Though Gayle manages to get his point across, its voice seems to cater to a fifth-grade readership. In short, it’s formulaic, blasé and entirely too long.
We begin by looking through the eyes of Dave Harding, a peppy writer for a London music magazine called Louder. Dave, satirical at heart, loves music almost as much as he loves his wife, Izzy. While Dave ardently reviews promo albums from bands he’s never heard of, Izzy is plucking away at a female magazine called Femme. Both of the relatively young writers have everything they’ve ever wanted. They own a nice “flat”, have great friends, and hold rewarding jobs they could do in their sleep. But things go astray when Izzy becomes pregnant and suffers a sudden miscarriage. Soon, both their marriage and career goals are put under a microscope.
As Murphy’s Law proves, things don’t get any better. Louder quickly folds, Izzy doesn’t want kids, and Dave finds he must hide his desire for children. Trying desperately to mend their raw relationship, Dave takes a freelancing gig at a local teen magazine called Teen Scene. Before you can say “I Love Leonardo DiCaprio!”, Dave has transformed from a sophisticated music journalist into an “agony uncle.” His new role: to head an advice column at the popular rag. In no time, he’s wading through letters written by anxious boys and love-hungry girls while dispensing witty, honest solutions. Things seem to get back to normal for the couple, but as you've come to figure out, it never really does.
It isn’t until Dave comes across a letter written by Nicola, a blunt teenager searching for her father, that things begin to get interesting; still clichéd, but intriguing nonetheless. Dave realizes that an ancient one-night stand had resulted in a long-lost daughter. Now, he must decide whether to keep this news from Izzy, or meet Nicola on his own. What results from this meeting is a heart-warming connection that provides this story with the backbone it so desperately needs. His struggle to give both women in his life adequate attention keeps this book puttering along. But as you come close to the 300-page mark, you’ll begin to wonder where exactly the story's going. To answer your question: nowhere in particular.
The pinnacle of this book occurs in the middle, when the fumbling father falls in love with his honest daughter. You’ll smile, feel fuzzy inside, and maybe even weep. But once that comfort wears off, you’re stuck in book that isn’t nearly as appetizing as it looks.