On Mike Gayle’s ‘Brand New Friend’

There’s something strangely satisfying about having the place where you live slagged off by an almost famous author. And it’s an author I almost know. Mike Gayle and I have the same degree and were contemporaries at Salford University, not that we knew each other.

But that small connection is enough to ensure I’ve followed his career. It’s not been enough to make me buy any of his books because he’s very much a genre writer. Nothing wrong with genre fiction, of course, but chick-lit (albeit from a male perspective) isn’t me. I guess the closest I get is an okay Tony Parsons (and Parsons is a poor man’s Nick Hornby).

Mike’s whipped the South Manchester Reporter into a tizzy with the accusation that Chorlton’s a bit smug. The Reporter even followed with a second piece (not online) in which someone complained that Chorltonians drink too much imported lager, like Kronenbourg (which is brewed in Reading). This envious bitchiness is nothing new. For example, all of Katharine’s work colleagues have slagged Chorlton off at different times. And all of them have separately owned up to trying to buy in Chorlton. And all of them regularly socialise in Chorlton, which doesn’t suffer from hoards of drunken kiddies throwing up everywhere at weekends (like the city centre) and isn’t dominated by national pub companies’ concept bars (like Didsbury). And there are no students to speak of.

The thing is it can be hard not to be appear smug about living in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. We Chorltonians have good reason to be pleased with ourselves and being too obviously pleased can look smug. We can’t help it if our quality of life is so much greater than everyone else’s. It’s hard to imagine, but think how nice it would be if only everyone (not just we Chorltonians) could be so pleased with their choice of neighbourhood.

No doubt Mike could live in Chorlton if he chose but, I recall from previous interviews, he prefers to live close to his parents in Birmingham (altogether now; ‘ahhh, bless him!’). Mike’s previous novels are set in London, Brand New Friend is set in Chorlton. So why not set this one in Birmingham?

‘I was always envious of the fabulous lifestyle in Chorlton,’ he tells the Reporter. ‘In Birmingham we haven’t really got anything like it,’ he admits.

If only Brummies could be pleased with where they live. Oh yeah, and Mike hasn’t updated his publicity shot in more than a decade, so I reckon he’s as bald as I am.

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