Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel

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Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Whatever Love Means is recommended if you like action, plot, pop culture and aren't too fussy about tight, good writing, innovative style or originality at all really. Otherwise, not. Two personal stars from Bookbag, but three and a half for a book of its kind, leaving us with a reasonably creditable two and a half.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: October 2000
Publisher: Abacus
ISBN: 0349113920

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Vic and Joe have been friends since their University days. Vic is a session guitarist, he was in a fairly successful band once but these days he's happy to dissipate his talent just as he is happy to dissipate just about everything else in his life. Vic is a creature of impulse; he talks on impulse, he acts on impulse and, above all, his relationships with women are based on impulse. Vic lives life for the moment and he's happy doing it. He's in a relationship with Tess, a wine taster and merchant whose straight-talking, no-nonsense approach to life seems to suit him down to the ground. Vic says out loud and in public all those things many people think but are too embarrassed and ashamed to admit. He fantasises about suffering from Tourette's Syndrome and how liberating that would be. He forgets that to be a sufferer he'd be unaware and most certainly not a detached, wryly, snottily amused observer of the reactions of others. He's the kind of man who delights to shock people with these kinds of musings. He says "c*nt" a lot in a "determined to irritate the uptight people" kind of way.

Poor Joe; Vic shocks and embarrasses Joe all the time but he admires him all the same. Joe is a biochemist working in AIDS research, he's conservative with a small C, conventional and married to Emma. Joe is "truly, madly, deeply" in love with Emma, an Irish furniture designer. They are a couple wedded not only to each other but also to fidelity and domesticity and a humdrum, but fulfilled and happy lifestyle. They have a small son, Jackson, and their life together seems perfect. However there have been recent tensions in their marriage partly caused by Jackson's arrival and partly by Sylvia, Emma's mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease.

On the day of the car crash that kills Diana, Princess of Wales, Vic and Emma begin an unlikely affair, partly sparked by the difference in Joe's and Emma's reactions to her death, and against the backdrop of this media-fuelled, most public tragedy the smaller, private tragedy begins to unfold. The lies and deceptions begin. Joe struggles desperately to hold on to his marriage and gropes blindly in his attempts to put things back on an even keel between Emma and himself. Vic finds himself strangely pulled in by his relationship with Emma; he's falling in love but romantic love is so far outside his experience he can't see it clearly. The affair continues and the tensions within the relationships of both couples grow. Tess begins to suspect, Vic finds himself changing and is unsure how to react, Joe's work suffers and he tries so hard to keep his marriage together. Emma begins to suffer from unusual, blinding headaches. Why?

Whatever Love Means is a plot-driven book, full of complicated sub-plots and clues and twists and turns and red herrings and suspects and and and... so that's all you're getting.

Have you ever been nagged to read a book you don't think you're going to like? You know, one by Stephen King perchance? What do you do? Do you just say NO? Or are you like me; do you politely mutter "Yes, I must get around to that," and hope the nagging person forgets about it? Well, in this case, they didn't give up. So I surrendered and I read Whatever Love Means. Do you remember what you were doing the weekend Diana died? Lacklustre supporter of family Windsor that I am, even I can remember. I was in hospital having just been told that I'd relapsed back into a cancer patient. But wherever you were and whatever you were doing, I bet you remember too. It's one of those collective consciousness things now. Whatever Love Means refers to the famous remark made by Prince Charles in the "engagement interview" and the book opens with the weekend of Diana's death. I suppose it struck a chord somehow - just a little bit of personal zeitgeist, something like that.

So, anyway, I haven't made Whatever Love Means sound bad at all so far have I? You're probably wondering why I was so reluctant to read it in the first place. Well, enthusiastic reader I may be, but I admit, I can be a rather snotty one. To tell you the truth "celebrity" writing gets right up my nose. It seems that once you've made a name in any field, however young, however inexperienced you are, you must immediately commission a ghost-writer to pen a poor but money-spinning autobiography. If you're a comedian you must bang out a few novels to swell the coffers fame brings even more. Perhaps I'm over-judgmental and not even just, but I'd rather read a book by someone who really wants to write, and someone who has really got something to say, not someone who thinks he's a latter day renaissance man.

Well, we all make mistakes, myself more than many I dare say, and I admit to an error here. I think Baddiel does want to write. You can't miss enthusiasm for the task at hand in a book and there really was enthusiasm in Whatever Love Means. It's not the greatest writing you'll ever read but it's not at all bad either. Baddiel is a comedian and so of course he can tell a good story. Like any other decent comedian too, his observation is smart and spot on, full of pop-culture reference and well-drawn characters you will recognise. His style will appeal to anyone who likes the way comedians address taboos and get away with it through humour. And, despite its often depressing narrative and close to the bone commentary Whatever Love Means is a witty book. I didn't hate it at all although to be honest I doubt I'll read it again in a hurry. I think the storyline got a little too twisty and turny by the end so that the writer could make his points and I don't like it when sense is sacrificed to polemic. It's a bit too fast moving and narrative-driven for my taste in any case, and so isn't really my kind of thing but that shouldn't let you stop it being yours. It's a serious book, with flaws, but certainly not an awful one. Baddiel is witty enough and tells enough of a good story to keep you turning the pages. He also has some points to make about many serious things - about the relationships between friends, that between sex and death and the difference between public and private tragedy. He pulls you in with dry, bitchy humour in the first part of the book and turns it round on you half way through to make those points.

For a more interesting pop-culture book, try Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland.

Buy Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel at Amazon.com.


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lhine said:

Long time since I read this but I remember it too as firstly seeming to be a bit too clever and witty but progressing to a story which became believable and drew you in.