Bete de Jour by Stan Cattermole

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Bete de Jour by Stan Cattermole

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: Well-written bloke lit with a different perspective than most and a ready, often self-deprecating grin. It does fall for a couple of the usual clichés, but it's better than much in the genre.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Collins
ISBN: 978-0007312740

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Something's just come in that might appeal to you, said Sue from The Bookbag, having just taken delivery of Bête de Jour. Pleased to be thought of, I never mustered the courage to ask whether this thought was motivated by a previous liking for bloke lit, or by the book's subtitle: The Intimate Adventures of an Ugly Man.

The major issue with bloke- and chick-lit is that, all too often, it's about perfect people. The main characters are usually successful, have lots of friends and free time and money. They cook brilliantly, eat healthily have gym memberships they actually use and tend to be young and physically attractive. I am none of these things and it's depressing that there are no stories about people like me. Except that now there is and it proved to be even more depressing.

Stan Cattermole is, by his own admission, very ugly and horribly overweight. The weight issue is a little more recent, but he's been ugly since the day he was born. This meant he was bullied, both at school and by his parents and his self-confidence is virtually non-existent. Because of these things, his success with the opposite sex is negligible. As he approaches his 30s, he determines that things will change. Next year is going to be a good one and he's going to do whatever he can to make it happen.

He does so by starting a blog and this book is collected writings from that blog. We get to follow most aspects of Stan's life, from his attempts to get fit, to his reintegration into the world outside his lonely flat. We get to see how his past life has affected his outlook and everything he does to put that behind him, in his dealings with friends old and new, both platonic and sexual relationships and his feelings about everything that happens to him.

The first thing you notice is that Stan is a very funny guy. He has a wry sense of humour, which mostly gets turned on himself. His observations of people and situations are also frequently amusing and his speed dating experiences are hilarious. This does cause some problems, however, as some of Stan's humour means you need to be able to read this book in the company of friends. Explaining to a stranger on a train that the reason you've just burst out laughing was a line like sprinkle a little cinnamon on your genitalia every day... isn't a good way of meeting people.

Stan is also an emotional character and takes a lot to heart. This makes the book an emotional read, as he often reacts to situations with his heart rather than his head. Being someone who does much the same thing, I found myself frequently understanding how he was feeling. Stan never holds back and whilst some of the things he's done over the years do seem pretty disgusting, it is to his credit that he is as open as he is. I was enjoying the feelings of familiarity the book gave me until it occurred to me that seeing a lot of myself in a book by a self-proclaimed ugly man maybe isn't something to be terribly happy about.

What this did provide, however, is a touch of reality that is often missing. Being able to empathise with a character in a book like this is something that happens rarely, at least to me. I also got a shock when Stan went to a school reunion in the same town I went to school and I fleetingly trawled through memories of my own to work out if I actually knew him. Several things counted against it being the case, but it helped make this the most realistic bloke-lit book I've read.

Unfortunately, Stan does fall for a couple of the old clichés and that does let Bête de Jour down a little. Admittedly, it's a condensed version of a life, so it's bound to skip out some of the more boring parts, but parts did get a little too sensational to seem real, which was a shame given how much I'd seen of myself in other parts. This is a regular failing of the genre, which frequently seem to spurn reality in favour of soap opera lives that people may want to read more about. This is often a pity, but it seemed even more so here, given how familiar much of it had sounded. It may be that Stan just happens to have had a remarkable year and a number of his friends did have quite a tough time, but there was so much going on that it took the edge off things slightly for me.

Ultimately, though, this is not why the book ended up depressing me. I suspect that the whole aim of the story is to be life-affirming; a kind of if I can do it, so can you type feeling. But close to the end, Stan looks back over his efforts and it suddenly occurred to me at that point that this man is actually more successful with the opposite sex than I am. There is hope within these pages that this may not always be the case, but it's still a profoundly upsetting thought.

Still, there are worse ways to get depressed than this and, in the end, this is a very entertaining book. I feel a little guilty for laughing at Stan, a guilt tempered only slightly by feeling that he's laughing too. This is a warm-hearted, well-written, amusing read. It's perhaps a little explicit during the cyber-sex scenes, but Stan doesn't go into Belle de Jour levels of detail. As well as being a funny guy, in this respect Stan is something of a gentleman. Which is one more thing we have in common. Dammit!

I think I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more bloke-lit with a difference, J. P. Ledwon's This Time Around is well worth a read.

Buy Bete de Jour by Stan Cattermole at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bete de Jour by Stan Cattermole at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Bete de Jour by Stan Cattermole at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Bete de Jour by Stan Cattermole at Amazon.com.


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Vanessa Greenwood said:

Just finished the book, which I bought because of Bete de Jour's blogs. I have never before read a book that made me laugh out loud so many times, and consequently five of my friends now own a copy. I failed to see that Stan fell for a few old cliches, maybe I'm just not bright enough to spot them, and did not at all feel that some of his story was too far fetched, (I had a year remarkably like his not so long ago, when I found myself stitched up, in fact tied up by a so called lover and filmed without my knowledge, I lost a parent and also a good friend, became a single parent myself and found my birth mother, saved my home from repossession and discovered love.) I think the book was beautifully observed, tender, well written and hilarious. I was wonderfully uplifted by it. I felt he was writing about me, in fact I thought he was me at several points, except I am a girl, albeit an ugly one. I feel altogether more normal after reading Bete de Jour, and will carry some of his wonderful wit with me for a long time I hope.