Byline: Andrea Henry
Little Green Man
by Simon Armitage
(Viking, pounds 12.99)
Simon Armitage is that rare thing in the 21st century, a poet. But don't let that put you off his first stab at fiction. Throwing his cap into the quality lad-lit ring, Little Green Man is yet another novel about male relationships. But it's sensitive not sentimental, wise rather than wordy and, you'll be relieved to hear, more Jonathan Coe than John Keats.
Armitage draws on the tried and tested theory that if men are going to unlock their deepest feelings then football is pretty much the key. Which is why thirtysomething Barney reunites his old school mates over a game of five-a-side.
There are two types of mates, Barney reflects. There's the ones you meet in later life, who you have things in common with and genuinely like, and those you made as a kid who, although you haven't seen them for the best part of 20 years, you'd still throw yourself under a bus for. Which is where Pompus, Winkie, Tony Football and Stubbs fit in.
Barney is lonely, his marriage is over, he's doing a poor job as part-time father to his seven-year-old autistic son, and parental handouts have meant he's never had to have a career. So Barney thinks it would be fun to rekindle his childhood friendships, hoping to pick up where they left off.
In the attic he ferrets out the Little Green Man - a statue he found as a kid which became the boys' talisman and a prize to reward their do-or-dare games. They're about to play again, but this time the game has cranked up a gear. Who dares wins the Little Green Man for good, and since what they thought was a piece of junk has now been valued at pounds 750,000, they're all in.
The dares start out simple - nicking something worth a tenner, getting on TV - and it's all a bit of a laugh. …