Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, by internet sensation Mil Millington, is “a comic novel that was ‘inspired'” by the theme of the website of the same name. As this is a book review site, I won’t go into the whole internet aspect of this, but it is worth keeping in mind that the website which served as the genesis for this novel, has received over 5 million visits. So similarly to the Sh*t My Dad Says website, internet blog popularity seems to have spawned this book.
The main character is the curiously named Pel, who narrates this chaotic and absurd story. The plot is loose and fluid, and perhaps uniquely for a novel, the plot isn’t really important here, serving as it does essentially as a vehicle for the author to serve us up lashings of argumentative dialogue between the English Pel, and his German girlfriend Ursula. This is the sort of dialogue over 5 million internet visitors love, and presumably so as not to disappoint or disenfranchise them, we get a long list of things the two main protagonists argue about.
This is indeed a comic and genuinely humorous novel, and is undoubtedly a fun read at the start, especially as the novelty factor of the two’s arguments made a positive impact on me. I really enjoyed the amazing truisms that are revealed in the opening one hundred pages or so – some of the characters’ observations and topics of arguments really ring true, particularly if you have kids yourself, or have experienced a “long-term relationship”. Right from the start it is clear that Pel and Ursula have an acidic and almost hateful and unsympathetic relationship, but yet seem strangely endeared to each other at the same time. In that regard this novel is a wonderful anti-dote to “chick lit” or idealised romantic novels – this depicts the reality of love and relationships, with all its hideous warts and all.
However, the novel’s strengths are also its weaknesses, with its unrelenting and very particular tone of humour, as well as the ubiquitous arguments, really starting to grate and annoy me by the half-way stage. The excuse for a plot revolves around the utterly chaotic and sinister goings-on at the local University, which increasingly drag the unwitting Pel further and further into the proverbial quagmire. There is a secondary weak plot involving house-moving, which does occasionally provide some fresh gags and laughs, it must be said, before also becoming repetitive. These two main plot strands are punctuated by moronic conversations with his two best friends – again, after the first two of these conversations, you know exactly what to expect in each subsequent occurrence. The novel as a whole begins to unravel halfway through, with hitherto important plot events suddenly dropping off the radar, to be replaced by random new events which just seem like excuses to have character arguments in new places. It culminates in a truly bizarre and unreal fashion, which for me was extremely unsatisfying.
Dialogue is the main staple of this novel, particularly the argumentative dialogues which are the reason d’etre of this novel. Characterization is weak as a consequence, as is plot development as mentioned above. The important Ursula character, despite being involved verbally a lot, is underdeveloped and two-dimensional, to my mind at least. The two children play bit conversational roles, and we only really glean information about other characters from their dialogues also. That said, the author has some pretty good insights into the sometimes farcical modern work place – I’ll let you discover these for yourself, as it will be a welcome break from the arguments!
This book has been reviewed elsewhere glowingly, as a comic work of genius that will have you laughing out loud every five minutes, to paraphrase. In my experience this is not the case at all, although there are undeniably some very funny dialogues. Ultimately for me though, the non-stop arguments and weak plot with unbelievable characters I didn’t feel at all for, left me out in the cold. I suspect it will be the same for most people, unless you come to this as a fan of the author’s website or Guardian column. The fact that this book was published just proves that there are plenty of the latter out there!