The Mutual Friend – Carter Bays

*I received a free ARC of this book with thanks to the author and Hodder & StoughtonThe decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: From the co-creator of How I Met Your Mother, a hilarious and thought-provoking debut novel set in New York City, following a sprawling cast of characters as they navigate life, love, loss, ambition, and spirituality–without ever looking up from their phones.

It’s the summer of 2015, and Alice Quick needs to get to work. She’s twenty-eight years old, grieving her mother, barely scraping by as a nanny, and freshly kicked out of her apartment. If she can just get her act together and sign up for the MCAT, she can start chasing her dream of becoming a doctor . . . but in the Age of Distraction, the distractions are so distracting. There’s her tech millionaire brother’s religious awakening. His picture-perfect wife’s emotional breakdown. Her chaotic new roommate’s thirst for adventure. And, of course, there’s the biggest distraction of all: Love.

From within the story of one summer in one woman’s life, an epic tale is unearthed, spanning continents and featuring a tapestry of characters tied to one another by threads both seen and unseen. Filled with all the warmth, humor, and heart that gained How I Met Your Mother its cult following, The Mutual Friend captures in sparkling detail the chaos of contemporary life, a life lived simultaneously in two different worlds–the physical one and the one behind our screens–and reveals how connected we all truly are.

I found this book a little hard to get going with at first. The narrative voice felt strangely stilted and didn’t seem to quite fit with any of the characters as they were being presented, which caused a little bit of an ‘uncanny valley’ effect on me as I read. But then, I suddenly put together the opening paragraph with the style of narration and the discomfort I was feeling and the story suddenly snapped into focus and made sense to me, and from that moment on, I was hooked!

The plot follows Alice Quick and her friends, family, and occasionally random acquaintances or people who pass her in the street. We follow their struggles with work and relationships in the modern world, and their troubled relationships with technology – social media, mobile phones, apps. Carter Bays avoided both of the easy goals here by presenting modern technology as neither the obsessive curse of modern times, stoking anxiety and obstructing real-life interaction, nor the miraculous blessing that allows us to manage every aspect of our lives with convenience and ease, but as a complicated and intricate mixture of both at the same time – which feels like a very accurate representation to me!

A theme of interconnectedness runs through the whole book, as all of the characters are linked by an intricate network formed of chance meetings, friend of a friends, and everyday coincidences. This network spans both the online and real-life world and the characters’ actions and behaviours have a butterfly-wing effect that often leads to unpredictable results as the plot unfolds.

As a (mostly) main character, Alice was incredibly relatable to me, with her lack of direction, procrastination, distraction, indecision and then sudden deep and immersive focus. So was Bill, actually, with his continual ‘next big thing’. And Pitterpat with her invisible chronic illness and longing for something vaguely ‘better’. In contrast, Roxy, Bob and Grover felt more alien to me, but I am sure that they will ring true for other readers (especially as, ironically, I suspect I was a Roxy in my late teens/early twenties!).

All-in-all, this is a very clever and thought-provoking contemporary novel and (once you click with the semi-detached narration) the characters are very engaging and have lived in my mind rent-free since I finished reading. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a unique, intelligent yet light-hearted, relationship drama.

What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?
This is the problem with telling yourself jokes: Nothing’s funny when you know the punch line. And I know the punch line because I know all the punch lines because I know all. I know all. I see all. These are the facts, and the facts make me all. Make me the storyteller. Make me the listener. Make me the campfire. Make me the stars.

– Carter Bays, The Mutual Friend

Find more from Carter Bays at his website here, or follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The Mutual Friend released today – buy it on Amazon right now!


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