The Stag and Hen Weekend – Mike Gayle

The Stag and Hen Weekend is the story of Phil and Helen, a couple in their thirties about to commit their lives to one another… that is of course if they can just manage to get through their respective stag and hen weekends (his: Amsterdam; hers: a country house and day spa in the Peak District) without falling apart. Told in the unique form of two separate stories that have common characters as well as themes and conclusion, The Stag and Hen Weekend can be read from front to back or from back to front putting the reader in the driver’s seat as to which story they wish to read first.

This book does what it says on the tin. It’s the story of a husband, Phil, and wife, Helen, to be. They are both embarking on their stag and hen weekends. They’ve had their troubles – what couple hasn’t? – but they’re both looking forward to married life. Despite the fact that Helen hasn’t even chosen her wedding dress yet…

While the boys head off for debauchery and drinking in Amsterdam, the girls escape to a hotel in the countryside for pampering, gossiping and lots of cocktails. All is going to plan – until Phil’s bitchy sister Caitlin arrives, having accepted the invitation that Helen has quite reluctantly extended to her. Phil, unaware of the tension between the girls, is also has no idea that Helen’s ex-boyfriend Aiden’s (the former love of her life, the former fiancé and the reason she’s never accepted his marriage proposal until now) has shown up. Having relinquished his phone to best man Simon for the entire trip, he doesn’t realise that his fiancee is struggling hundreds of miles away.

But things aren’t going swimmingly for Phil, either. His waster dad has been invited by Simon and Phil is less than pleased when he turns up (even less so when he’s arrested for drug possession). A chance encounter with Sanne, Aiden’s ex-wife, only complicates things further as she reveals that Aiden left her for Helen – and is now determined to get her back.

The Stag and Hen Weekend has exactly the right mix of intrigue, romance and complexity to hook a reader. Mike strikes the right note with the dialogue, which is punchy, comic and realistic (even if there are a few errors peppered through the text). The Hen part reads like a night in with the girls – and the Stag reads like a night out with the boys, exactly as it should. Mike Gayle’s original concept is pitch-perfect for this sort of novel, as the two sides fill in the gaps of the other perfectly without the neat, explanatory wrap-up that’s always offered (not always subtly) at the end of similar books. However, I would have liked a smoother, less abrupt ending – I’m fine with cliffhangers, but this one felt premature, and I would have liked to read on.
 
Mike Gayle brings a funky, original twist to the genre with this witty, more-bang-for-your-buck, 2-in-1 novel. Inventive and quirky with a good plot to boot, this is one I’ll be reading again in the future – even if I do look like I’m reading upside down to other members of the public…

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy.

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