The Love Secrets of Don Juan sees self-pitying ad executive Daniel "Spike" Savage midway through a messy divorce at 45. His soon-to-be ex-wife, Beth, has the house in Hammersmith and custody of their daughter, Poppy. Daniel has been left with a bedsit in perpetually unfashionable Acton and a burning desire to understand why all his relationships with women end in miserable failure.
A few words of wisdom come from old friend Carol, best mate Martin and his therapist Terence but with a blind-ish date looming, Daniel takes more drastic action. He embarks on refining his identity or "brand statement" in the forlorn hope that he'll stand a better chance with the opposite sex--as he quips: "Interesting that 'opposite'. As in diametrically opposed. Not the different sex. The opposite sex." With his trusty flip chart and black marker pens he starts to analyse the lessons he has learned from each love affair--a project he dubs, ironically, The Love Secrets of Don Juan.
To begin with, Tim Lott's third novel seems to mine a furrow of laddishness all but exhausted in the late 90s by Nick Hornby and numerous stand-up comedians, invariably called Jeff. Daniel's "Women, oh they're different, aren't they?" shtick hardly appears original; while Lott's take on the ostracised "Good Dad" is pure Parsons. But Lott is a significantly better novelist than the above would suggest. His plotting can be hackneyed but this is a book full of acute humour and observations--one recurring and insistent theme is the contrast of male literalness and feminine symbolism. Daniel is richly drawn and as he negotiates the modern dating (and parenting) game, his articulate, first person narrative, peppered with brand names and marketing argot, really captures a man struggling to understand his life, love and the infuriating nuances of gender. --Travis Elborough