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3 men and 3 women play romantic musical chairs. William Sutcliffe, matching so many other young British writers these days, tells the story of Londoners in their twenties, although in this novel there is little that makes use of the city location. The story could almost as easily have been set in a small village in the countryside, although the quick wit of the characters might fit better in a capital city rather than a quiet backwater.
Most such novels feature one couple, or occasionally one main protagonist and several abortive romances until the successful person comes along. So this book is distinctive in giving roughly equal focus to each of the six main characters, although Lisa and Guy probably get more time than any of the others. But really what makes The Love Hexagon different and interesting is the ability of Sutcliffe to present an episode from two different viewpoints, normally the male and the female. He shows how misunderstandings occur, and how different people can have massively different perceptions of time they spend together. The most striking case is when Josh and Keri have a one-night stand. Josh next morning tells his office-mate Lisa that it was wonderful, and he is ready for a long-term relationship with Keri. Keri tells Lisa over lunch that it was an absolute disaster, that Josh was terrible in bed and that he emitted unpleasant bodily odors.
The descriptions of the characters is more psychological than one finds in most novels. For example, Lisa wonders why her partner Guy likes Helen so much, when Helen is such an unhappy person. Here's Sutcliffe describing Lisa's thoughts:"Her constant unhappiness was, in some way, an accusing finger pointing out the futility in everyone's lives. When Guy was in the company of Helen, depression somehow seemed a more impressive state of mind than happiness. With her, he stopped wanting to be happy. Happiness seemed superficial. He wanted to be in touch with what really mattered in life. He wanted to be like her. He wanted to be depressed."
That's about as deep as it gets, and in some ways the plot does not match the insight of the descriptions of individual states of mind. It's tempting to conclude that the plot was arranged for geometrical simplicity rather than out of understanding of the individual motivation. Lisa especially ends up becoming a very unsympathetic character, and Josh is pathetic all the way through. Helen seems sad and emotionally weak, although we don't get to understand her motivations so well. It's the friendship of Guy and Graham that is the most filled out and believable relationship of the novel, but even there one is left feeling that all we are given is a sketch, rather than a detailed picture.
Sutcliffe seems to be trying to build a bridge between a serious novel and a comic farce, an idea with a great deal of potential, but it's a tricky job, and in this book, the story falls a little flat. Nevertheless, The Love Hexagon is a very entertaining, quick read, and I'd recommend it.
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