Barney is a loser.
Shhhh that’s OK, he won’t mind me saying that – after all it’s not like it isn’t something that Barney Conroy, protagonist in Guy Sigley’s hilariously all-too-relatable novel Barney (A novel about a guy called Barney) hasn’t told himself every day of his miserable, unfulfilling existence.
He was , after all, a man who managed to get himself fired – not made redundant; FIRED – from the public service, something that no one, well anyone of glowingly-good reference, talent and sound mind, has ever managed to do.
And now everywhere he looks, especially when his über-successful, cavalier-with-the-muesli, good-hygiene-be-damned housemate Lucien happens to hove over-confidently into view, all he sees are successful people leading productive, happy private sector lives.
Lives that are not, as he reminds himself in amusingly pitiful fashion, HIS. (Yes it is possible to be narcissistically self-involved and inner monologue funny at the same time especially when you’re an aspiring stand-up comedian like Barney.)
“… Gloria turns and walks away without another word, her appetite for rapport clearly sated. Not surprising, really. This is the private sector, after all. I’m sure she’s already had thousands of riveting conversations about art and culture and philosophy with colleagues so sophisticated they learned about the Louvre by actually visiting it, and not just reading The Da Vinci Code. Once. And then watching the movie. Twice.”
What makes Barney so damn releatable, and trust me there’s a little Barney in all of us, yes even you Mr Fast Car Driving Career Man/Woman, is that who of us hasn’t at some point felt like they “cannot adult anymore”, to co-opt the Twitter-ubiquitous phrase?
Or to be fair that they couldn’t actually do it in the first place and have been faking it through their entire life as everyone around them gets dream jobs, rom-com level relationships and ticks items with ease off their imaginatively-compiled bucket-list?
Hands up? Of course we all have and that’s the genius of Sigley’s beautifully-paced, very funny novel – the sheer universality of Barney’s experience.
It doesn’t matter that his household name actress mother Audrey, who dotes on him as a mother should, or the object of his romantic affection Gloria, his Indian tech friend Achal or even his lifelong friend Mike and wife Beth all tell him he’s a damn fine man with talent and personality to spare if only he’d actually emerge from his near-constant self-involved pity party.
In Barney’s world, he’s a Loser with a neon-glowing capital “L” and no amount of affirmation, external or otherwise, is going to convince him otherwise. (Well not until the epically heroic finale of which there shall be nothing spoiler-y said.)
Granted his lack of self-belief is exaggerated for comic effect, and you might wonder why you’d want to spend time with anyone as morosely self-involved as Barney, but he is you, he is me and he’s damn sweet and likeable for all his neuroses.
And you want him to succeed.
You want him to land that new job at Rogerson Communications. To convince Gloria that he is the man of her dreams (he is instantly smitten but she is not easily convinced). And to realise that, if he’d just take an active interest in someone other than himself and believe in his abilities and personhood, that life may work out just fine.
Or at least that he’d see that he’s just as much a “fake” as the rest of us, faking it till he makes it.
One area in which Barney excels is the well-placed witticism; not always with other people with whom he has a gift for inserting the most awkwardly unfunny phrase at the completely the wrong time, but in his head.
His humour, which is most certainly in place and sparking nicely, Barney’s self-perception not withstanding, fills Barney the novel with many laugh-out-loud, wryly self-recognisable, his internal monologuist saying all the sorts of things we all think in ways far funnier than pretty much all of us could ever manage.
“‘I want you to promise me that you’ll stop trying to be somebody else. Stop trying to be what you think everyone wants you to be. Stop trying to be what you think I want you to be. Just be yourself.’
Mum, Achal, Gloria…I’m sensing a thread.“
Flowing with the awkwardness, humour and hopefulness of a classic romantic comedy, Barney is one of those books that scoops you up right from the first page – don’t take my word for it; my workmate and I read the first two pages together and mutually agreed Barney was worth spending time with from the very first word – and carries you happily along, dispensing witty bon mots, meaningful insights and amusing banter as if it’s going out of fashion.
It’s the kind of book flowing with wry self-recognition, with the sense that but for a damn good turn of phrase or a master degree in fakeology, there go I with both feet and a fair length of legs most firmly placed in mouth.
Barney is an everyman and Sigley uses him to deliriously good effect, forging the kind of story that you can’t stop reading and will likely want to read again as soon as you’ve finished.
You are, after all, reading about someone who’s just like you and trust me, you’ve never been funnier, more heartfelt or clever.
Do yourself a favour. Once you’ve read Barney, sign up at guysigley.com for the nine short stories comprising The Chronicles of Barnia, Sigley’s 2015 Watty Award-winning tales about Barney’s life in the public service. Oh, and read this great interview of the author at jaserosenburg.com