One For My Baby by Tony ParsonsThursday 02 Aug 2001
HarperCollins, £15.99 stg
In the mould of Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons writes about sensitive, baffled thirty-something men searching for some meaning to their lives by immersing themselves in sport, music or - as in this case - the beds of foreign students. Alfie Budd is the man in question.
Alfie is a man in mourning for a girl he considered perfect – beautiful, intelligent, compassionate and, most importantly, she loved him. Setting his dead wife Rose on the highest pedestal he can find, he worships his memory of their relationship and the things that remind him of their time together – her boorish friends, Tsingtao beer, a man doing Tai Chi in the park.
In an attempt to escape his life as an English teacher in a school where "the woodwork teacher had his head put in his own vice", Alfie had taken off for exotic Hong Kong. There during the turbulent handover period, he met and fell in love with Rose, a high-flying lawyer with a career rather than a dead-end job (like Alfie). They married even though he – and her friends – thought she was too good for him. But Rose's tragic death in a scuba diving accident caused Alfie to return home. The book opens with a bewildered man back in a London he barely recognises.
Alfie falls into a job teaching English, and soon starts falling into bed with his students. Believing that you only get one shot at happiness, he chooses to have meaningless relationships that won't disturb the pain he holds as close as he once held Rose. Meanwhile, his family is falling apart around him: his father elopes with the au pair, his mother seems more concerned with her roses than his departure and his beloved grandmother develops a terminal illness. It's time for Alfie to realise that just because you've given up on life, doesn't mean that it's given up on you.
Former NME journalist turned tabloid columnist, Tony Parsons had a hit with his first novel, 'Man and Boy'. With 'One For My Baby' he looks set to build on that success. Wrapped in misery and the songs of Frank Sinatra, Alfie Budd is a sympathetic character, although the way he clings to Rose as an excuse for his behaviour eventually begins to grate, even on himself: "they exchange a little sweet kissy-kiss that provokes an involuntary sneer on my flushed face. Some distant part of me realises I am not being the perfect guest."
Although Parsons occasionally wrongfoots himself with jarring banalities - "These days the British can't stop talking about their feelings. Perhaps Diana had something to do with it, perhaps she persuaded us to exchange our stoic, stiff upper lips for emotional, wobbly bottom lips." - he generally manages to keep on the right side of sentimentally. 'One For My Baby' is a heartwarming tale of love lost and life beginning again.