William Boyle’s new novel, A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself, is to be published in March 2019 and it is a book that will definitely divide opinions. In his new novel William Boyle examines a number of universal themes that will be close to the readers’ hearts. A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself is an exploration of friendship, family and chance encounters that make life easier and better. Boyle’s novel is set in New York and the action spans over two days. The story is action packed and the pace is fast and that is one of the strong sides of the novel. In two days Boyle manages masterfully to introduce a number of characters and relationships in a way that feels natural. The fast pace and constantly evolving relationships feel real and convincing. The characters he introduces are also a breath of fresh air, as the reader encounters five female characters that are unique and fully fleshed out which is a literary feat in itself. Boyle lets the reader connect with everyone by introducing their stories in a way that is not contrived.
The reader meets Rena, a mob widow that tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Adrienne, and granddaughter, Lucia. There is also the character of Wolfstein, an ex porn-star whose chance encounter with Rena leads to the unfolding of the universal topics within the book. It is the female characters that are the best part of the book. It is not often that a reader is introduced to such an array of female protagonists in just one book and Boyle has really succeeded in creating a novel packed with great women. They are interesting, and funny, and so, so human that they more than make up for the weak sides of the book.
Although the novel is packed with amusing characters the story itself lacks an innovative aspect. The theme of finding friendship and family in the unlikeliest places is indeed compelling but the background setting is neither creative nor that fascinating. The idea of an Italian mafia setting is well-known to everyone and Boyle’s novel feels like a repetition of a story all of us have heard or seen a number of times. The majority of characters in the book are connected to the Italian mob in New York in one way or another and the way they speak and behave is a reflection of every stereotype imaginable. Whether this is done on purpose or not is not clear but the effect is somewhat dull as the story and the characters’ behaviours feel like a repetition of every Italian mafia movie out there. There are guns and money and big, macho men promising the perfect life to their women and whilst these ideas can be compelling to read or watch Boyle’s book does nothing new to capture the attention of the reader. The characters’ back stories are indeed different and interesting but their behaviour is somewhat predictable and shallow, which makes for a read that you want to love but at the same time you struggle to even like.
With this said, readers who love neo-noir mafia stories, fast paced action and funny characters should definitely put Boyle’s new novel on their to-be-read list.
A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself is published by No Exit Press, available on 7th March 2019.