In big steps across the years, Miller's second novel after 2011's Snowdrops follows two decades of a turbulent, unbreakable male friendship, starting from "collusive innocence" and growing into a loyalty that's nearly love, but that in true bloke fashion dares not speak its name.

Two English guys, Patrician Adam and plebeian Neil, meet in a 1993 Californian hostel. Improbably, engagingly, they like each other. So away they go on a laddish road trip, ticking off scenic highlights, chatting up women via a sequence of excruciatingly amateur lines: "We're hairdressers ... We're masseurs ... we read philosophy."

It's all playfully picaresque, until they meet teenage Rose in a National Park. Sobered by what happens there, they head back to England and the next 20 years of their lives.

Youthful idealism sags into late-30s materialism and resignation. Neil becomes the ultimate entrepreneur, for whom millions are the only noteworthy denomination. Adam trails from unsuccessful television work to the more cobwebby corridors of the civil service.


Families buoy them and burden them. Love sometimes unsettles them. Secrets keep glinting through various veneers. They and London change: markets soar and stagger; puke-saturated pub carpets give way to whitewashed floorboards; hair goes silvery-grey or awol; parents die; the Thatcher era recedes from recent history to ancient history.

Prose and plot stride along vigorously; it's an enormously readable book. There's a calamitous breach and an aw-shucks reconciliation. Miller does stage-manage his events and people: you watch him ably and overtly moving them around. He ensures the precariously good end precariously happy, and that's not bad at all.

He gets the concerned, halting male dialogue just about pitch-perfect; it's a story where silences between friends speak profoundly. He also has a fine eye and ear for British class distinctions: Neil's middle-class dad in his stifling stationery shop; Adam's aristocratic pater urging his son to procreate and keep the upper class alive.

Society changes. So do the two protagonists, one bouncy and risk-taking, the other more nuanced and disillusioned. Their character arcs enclose a big cast of other figures. A number of women suffer at their hands, mostly through male gaucheness and unawareness. A number of others grow along with them.

Miller doesn't spare his men. Neither does he demonise them. They're imperfect, authentic, bound by "the muscle memory of old jokes" and the awareness that "betrayal ... was what friends did". An affirmation of the bruised, basic goodness of many men; read it for that reason alone.

The Faithful Couple
by A.D. Miller
(Little, Brown $37.99)

David Hill is a New Plymouth writer.