10 February 2012

Book Review: The Stag and Hen Weekend by 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...

Rating: 3/5

I've never actually read one of Mike Gayle's books before, but the concept of this book really interested me and I couldn't wait to get stuck in and see what it was all about. The idea of a novel being split in half was great, and I was curious how Gayle would be able to bring these two stories together and create a novel out them, without making them just 2 short stories that just happened to be linked by the fact the main characters were a couple. It's a really good looking book too, with 2 separate covers, a pink one for the Hen weekend story, and a navy blue for the Stag weekend one, and it's entirely up to you which you read first. I decided to go with ladies first, and after reading both can safely say you can start with either, but that the men's story was far more interesting!

As I said, I began with the girl's story so I will talk about that one first. Helen is marrying Phil, and to celebrate, she's going on a luxury spa weekend break with her nearest and dearest friends. However, Helen is starting to feel a bit wobbly about their impending nuptials, but doesn't want to disclose it to anyone. Moreover, when she meets someone at the hotel from her past, she's wondering if Phil really isn the man for her. While I liked reading the Hen Weekend story, I couldn't help but feel that it was a little bit dull and I found myself getting a bit too bored for my liking. Helen was okay, but I just didn't like her very much, and that didn't change as her story progressed and things occured. I wonder if Gayle being a man writing about a very girly weekend away hindered the story somewhat, as there was just something not quite right about it and I didn't find it all that readable!

However, I found the Stag Weekend story to be far more interesting and readable. It tells the tale of Phil and his mates on a weekend to Amsterdam to get ready for his wedding to Helen. Phil loves Helen and can't wait to marry her, but is worried she's having second thoughts. Therefore he decides to go to Amsterdam anyway, and try and enjoy the weekend. He doesn't, however, bank of meeting someone that is important to both him and Helen, and things spinning out of control. I liked Phil as a character, he was really well written and a believable male lead for the book. I was wanting to shout at him for some of his decisions because I knew he was making bad choices, but enjoyed the way the story progressed and things changed between Phil and the other characters in the book. The things the lads get up are typical Stag night things, and it was fun to read about, much more so than the Hen Weekend ones, again perhaps because Gayle just found it easier and more comfortable to write confidently about the male characters?

One thing that really did pull this book down for me was the ambiguous endings. I was wondering how Gayle would be able to pull off an ending because of the fact you could read either book first, and therefore the ending might be spoilt, but I'm someone who really likes things ended properly, all endings tied up in a bow and there being no real question marks. However, nothing is tied up here, it's left up in the air about what Phil and Helen are going to do and it left me frustrated. I wanted to know what Phil's decision would be and whether Helen would be disappointed, but nothing was clear. Also, there was no real interaction between the pair in the book due to the nature of the story, and therefore it was hard to root for them as a couple because we, as a reader, simply don't know how good they are together and whether they should be together. Therefore, it did end up feeling like 2 short stories that had been lumped together to create a novel, and I can't say it worked for me. Yes, I enjoyed the tales of the weekends, especially the Stag weekend, but other things just didn't work and I wouldn't personally go to read another book in this format, I'm much more a longer novel kinda gal!

You can buy The Stag and Hen Weekend in both hardback and as an eBook now!


  1. Well, this actually isn't an original idea. I've seen it exploited everywhere, movies, books, talk-shows. I hope It's written better though! Trials and tribulation before the wedding..oh well..it's not all fairy tale!

  2. This sounds like a couple of books I read as a teenager (one was called watching me, watching you but I can't remember what the other was). Both told the same story but from the male/female point of view. You could read one then flip it over to read the other. I can't remember them having unclarified endings though (that would bother me too).

  3. I read the Stag weekend first and then the Hen weekend. I could not really decide which one to read first but then I went with the cover that was on top when I unpacked the book after it had arrived. Anyway, I loved the story of the Stag weekend. When I read the Hen weekend afterwards it filled some gaps and offered some explanations and background but I agree that it was a little boring occassionally. When I read the book I was constantly wondering how the process of writing was for Mike Gayle, did he write the two stories simultaneously or completely independently? I would really love to know. I must say that I have read all of Mike Gayle's books and can only recommend them, especially if you like the Stag weekend. I would not compare The Hen weekend to his other works, it is a little different.

  4. I remember the book Mama J was talking about but can't remember the name of it - I found it very confusing because it's hard to only read one side of a page... after i got used to it i started doing it with normal books!

    Also, the thought struck me here that it's funny that the hero in this book is Phil - isn't Mike Gayle's brother Phil Gayle the newsreader (he used to be on Big Breakfast's news)?