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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Parsons' Baby blues
Tony Parsons
One For My Baby is Parsons' second novel
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

Tony Parsons must have been as surprised as anyone by the runaway success of last year's Man and Boy, which continues to hang around the top 20 on the best sellers list.

In Man and Boy, Parsons, a rock journalist turned cultural pundit, produced a novel which was stylish, well-plotted, funny and touching - and not a little autobiographical.

His new novel One For My Baby has the disadvantage of carrying a much greater weight of expectation, and comparisons with its predecessor are inevitable.

The hero is a similar figure - a 30-something man struggling with work, women and children (having them or not having them) and the tone in whose voice the story is told - another first-person narrative - is almost identical.

In the new book, Alfie Budd is a widower who teaches English to foreign students at a language school in London.

Cover of One For My Baby
The novel is not wholly satisfying
On top of dealing with his wife's death, he has to deal with other vicissitudes - the failure of his parents' marriage, the illness and death of his grandmother, a girlfriend's abortion - while he attempts to recover some meaning in his life.

Along the way he regularly sleeps with his female students.

The dramatic possibilities of the story are good and the sense of humour is still there, but the novel is not wholly satisfying.

There is a sense in which the plot feels bolted together just so that Alfie Budd can be put through a range of modern predicaments.

Worse, too many of Tony Parsons' hobby-horses are taken out for a ride.

The decline of the family, the lament for Britain's new-found emotional incontinence, the awe of Far Eastern philosophy and self-discipline, even the championing of Frank Sinatra - all these will be more than familiar to anyone who has read Parsons' journalism.

And, tough and streetwise though Tony Parsons/Alfie Budd is supposed to be, there is a strong streak of sentimentality lurking below the surface and more than a touch of glibness in some of the homespun wisdom which the characters periodically serve up.

Which is not to deny that this is an enjoyable read, and seems fair set to be a commercial success.

And whatever criticisms might be made of this book at a literary level, there is no doubt that Parsons' dilemmas are those of many contemporary men - and women.

There is even a happy ending. As one of Parsons' characters says, "You got to have a little faith, haven't you?"

One for My Baby by Tony Parsons is published by HarperCollins

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