James Bailey: The Flip Side

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Some things seem just too good to be true, like James Bailey’s debut book being billed as the ‘laugh-out loud romantic comedy of the year’. Is it really possible that an unknown author could be worthy of such accolade? This is what Berkeley Squares set out to evaluate when we were sent a copy of ‘The Flip Side’ to review ahead of its much-anticipated release in November.

‘The Flip Side’ has an effectively simple plot. Josh, who is twenty-eight, decides to toss a coin for every decision in his life following a series of bitter disappointments. Josh’s logic is simple: his decisions to date have been so misguided that a coin surely can’t do any worse. The reader then follows Josh through his year of leaving life to fate and the result is a witty and entertaining book which might well justify its bold billing.

Central to the success of the book is Bailey’s adroit use of conversation. Too often, conversations in novels can feel contrived and laboured but, except on a rare occasion, this is not the case in ‘The Flip Side’. The discussions Josh has with those around him largely feel as if they could have been taken straight out of real life. As a result of these fluid conversations, the humour weaved throughout the book is easily identifiable and successful. The reader will regularly find themselves laughing at Josh’s friends, Jessie and Jake, teasing him and the eccentric antics of his parents.

However, most of these moments would not be comical without Josh’s small, sarcastic thoughts which brighten the book. Whilst a few of the situations Josh finds himself in are rather spurious and, as a result, quite funny in their own right, Josh also ends up in many mundane situations, whether that be living at home, going on a blind date or visiting a European city. It is finding humour in these otherwise lifeless environments which separates Bailey’s book from the majority and ensure there is rarely a bland moment. For instance, after Josh complains about his mother still being worried by the potential of online paedophiles grooming him, he casually thinks to himself, ‘I’m past my sell-by date as far as they are concerned’.

Despite the book primarily aiming to be an entertaining read, it would be unfair to describe it as superficial. Behind the comical events in Josh’s life is an inability to work-out adult life and discern what he wants from it, even as those around him settle down. Hence, ‘The Flip Side’, through the medium of Josh, also becomes an exploration of early adulthood and the different events and relationships which profoundly shape us. Therefore, far from Josh being a static and uninteresting character, he is one who develops significantly as the book progresses. Indeed, as the reader spends time with Josh, they gradually become more invested in his life. Even if ‘The Flip Side’ is a romantic comedy and hence largely predictable in its ultimate ending, the many unpredictable twists and turns in Josh’s journey evoke feelings of anguish and elation in equal measure due to the reader developing genuine care for Josh as a character.

To conclude, ‘The Flip Side’ turns a beautifully basic idea of tossing a coin into a hugely entertaining story complete with diverse characters, a plot satisfyingly unpredictable in its predictability, and plentiful humour, all of which has the effect of creating a book that will keep readers enthralled from the first to last page.

So, does it warrant its impressive billing?

Undoubtedly.

Rating: 4.75/5