Girlfriend 44


Is she "The One"—or just Girlfriend 44? A hilarious account of the plight of the single male—an instant British bestseller.

Since he was ten, Harry has had one ambition—to find the girl for him. Forty-three women and twenty-odd years later, he is no nearer to his goal. He doesn't ask for much: just a beautiful intellectual who doesn't mind his constant infidelity.

Harry's roommate Gerrard did once find true love—but he didn't realize it until ...

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Is she "The One"—or just Girlfriend 44? A hilarious account of the plight of the single male—an instant British bestseller.

Since he was ten, Harry has had one ambition—to find the girl for him. Forty-three women and twenty-odd years later, he is no nearer to his goal. He doesn't ask for much: just a beautiful intellectual who doesn't mind his constant infidelity.

Harry's roommate Gerrard did once find true love—but he didn't realize it until the day she left him. Only two women have met his exacting criteria, and he's not hopeful that he'll find another. Even if he does, he's not sure he can trust her not to grow old eventually.

And then Harry and Gerrard meet Alice.

Alice is the perfect woman. She's the only woman in the world Harry and Gerrard can agree on. Unfortunately, she seems to like both of them. And neither will stop at anything to win her for good.

Girlfriend 44 is a funny, frightening look into the minds and morals of modern men and women.

About the Author:
Mark Barrowcliffe was working as a freelance editor and writer when a literary agent read an article he wrote urging people to withhold sympathy from men who are dumped by their girlfriends. She suggested he write a novel, which became Girlfriend 44, which she then sold for a major six-figure advance in England. Ron Howard has bought film rights. Barrowcliffe lives in London.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
a darkly amusing look the soccer, lager and 'born-again-sexism' set.
Wall Street Journal
This novel is zany, alive and always true to itself. You may not know a scoundrel like Harry, but if you do, your life is probably richer for it.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"You are not perfect," explains the laddish, caddish Harry Chesshyre to his 43rd girlfriend, Emily, in the break-up letter that opens this Machiavellian relationship comedy. Throughout his quest for the perfect mate, the 32-year old Harry maintains a stable, committed relationship with his flatmate, the finicky, repressed Gerrard. When their ultra-womanizing friend, Farley, apparently commits suicide over a love object named Alice, they both decide that she is the only one for them. Their farcical no-holds-barred competition for her, including a drunken pub crawl after Farley's funeral, counterbalances Harry's romancing of Alice as he realizes she might be "the one." Throughout, the witty, loquacious Harry serves as a mouthpiece for over-the-top opinions about men and women, sex and love. While Barrowcliffe's style is thoroughly British, his cynical insights into the single male mind are universal, such as his Maxim-esque tactics for hitting on girls: e.g., Mr. Listener, Search and Destroy, or the Mallory Principle: sleeping with your best friend's ex-girlfriend for the same reason as one would climb Everest ("Because it's there"). Where the novel falters is just where Harry does--that is, in its inability to comprehend Alice as a person, not just perfection personified. The other female principal, Lydia, while a witty foil to Harry and Gerrard, is similarly one-dimensional. Although this debut doesn't have the characterization depth of Nick Hornby's novels--and Barrowcliffe's humor is far more misanthropic--American readers will still find Harry's romantic misadventures amply entertaining. (Jan. 7) Forecast: The current rage for cynical romantic comedies from across the pond should help propel sales. That Ron Howard has already bought the film rights also bodes well. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312261665
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/3/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Barrowcliffe is a freelance editor and writer. He lives in London and Paris and has finished a new novel, Infidelity for First-Time Fathers, also available from St. Martin’s Press.

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Read an Excerpt

    Dear Emily

I do not expect to emerge with any credit from what you are about to read.

    This is goodbye. You always suspected that I couldn't love you and you were right. I respect you very much, and I care for you very much so, although you will find it painful, I have decided to tell you why we must part. You are not perfect.

    I do not want to be unkind so let me reassure you that your shortcomings are largely physical.

    If you were perfect, for me, you would have to be between 5'6" and 5'7" with hair that looks as if blonde and brunette had put their heads together and come up with a better colour. Your coif would be natural, about 12" long, neither curly nor straight but with an amazing wave to it that would come to life as you flicked it over your shoulder.

    Your body should look like Bardot's but be capable of suggesting Hepburn's. Obviously your tits would be capable of looking either huge or tiny, as the dress demands.

    Your skin should be blemish-free, apart from perhaps a charming beauty spot. It should have a texture to make alabaster look like a quattro formaggio, although you wouldn't give a damn for cosmetics — apart from when you wanted to dress like a tart, which would be often.

    Your beauty should be idiosyncratic, within the above parameters.

    Most of all you need kind, intelligent eyes. When I say most of all, I mean it's no good without the rest of the package too. Plenty of dogs (the sort that bark) have kind, intelligent eyes, but youtakemy meaning.

    On this last point, I feel your eyes are intelligent but you naturally screw in your face when you talk, which holds them a bit close together. It means you always look as though you are calculating the price of something. This is unfortunate, because I know you are generous and free with the little money you have.

    All the sugary sick things — the idiosyncratic way of flicking the hair, the lop-sided smile, the slightly theatrical way of smoking a cigarette — I'm afraid you'd be needing to do those too, if we were to have a chance.

    There is a load of personality requirements which you score very well on. I very much admire your originality in thought and dress, for instance. I know that when I say things like that you always ask difficult questions such as: `In what way?' It's hard to put into words, just take it from me that I do.

    I am aware that this is a sorry way to end our relationship, and I didn't want the whole perfection thing to get in the way. I thought for years that I could get round it, that I could love women in all their diversity, that closeness was what it was all about.

    I was wrong. You can't love someone if you think they've got a big nose, not properly. As a man, you might have kids with them, dogs, a cottage, etc. You might get caught in rain storms and drink wine in the sun, do all the romance bit, but when you look deep into her eyes it will be because you want to avoid looking at her nose. Don't worry, you haven't got a big nose — it was just an example.

    Rest assured, there isn't just one model of perfection, this is just the one that appeals to my demographic, which, unfortunately, is also yours. There are probably five or six others, maybe more, across the range of men, but I can't see you as Miss Sexy Wellies, the ideal stockbroker shag, or the mini-skirt-at-minus-five-innercity-dream-babe, really, can you?

    Don't think me cruel, you just need to know where you stand so you can work your life around this, like living with diabetes. Most women are in the same boat, but they are with men who lack the self-confidence, or looks, or money to trade up from them. There are plenty of these about, men who grit their teeth as they look at their sagging wives and say, `I'm no oil painting, she's the best I can get, I'll try to love her.' That's what the kind ones say anyway, and they go to their graves missing the girl with the smaller nose, the girl with the bigger tits, the girl who understands.

    I used to think it was OK to be size ten, a great laugh, with a good figure and nice-ish face. It isn't. Size eight is the very fattest allowable, unless you're Marilyn Monroe, and we can't allow you an `ish' or even a `nice'. It's horrible, but it's true.

    I know you will do well without me. You are a pretty girl, a wonderful girl, but just not pretty enough for me. All I want from a woman is perfection in body and mind. The rest — career, job, kids, money, success — she can look after while I go down the pub.

    I am sorry for my sentiments. I had always tried to believe in the opposite — in love being blind, in working at relationships to overcome the little things. If you're wondering if it was another woman, it was. Is, I hope. I don't know. Whatever, she meets the criteria stipulated above, so I have to go for it. I know you'll understand.

    I suppose it was Farley who made me realise all this, indirectly. Which brings me on to a bit of bad news — he's dead and I've inherited his flat. (The dead bit, clearly, is the bad news, although I know you didn't like him.) It's a bit complicated to go into by letter so I'll tell you all about it when you come back. Look forward to seeing you, and say hello to the penguins for me.


    Your ex-boyfriend, Harry (Chesshyre)

Chapter One

Ineligible bachelors

My wife would normally have been in bed at 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning, but that Saturday emotional torment had propelled him upright long before his normal hour. Already, at 10, he was up and directing his bile at a piece of paper.

    It was a year to the day since Gerrard's last girlfriend had finished with him and his anger, having subsided from the bare-fanged fury of the early months, was now at a level where he was calm enough to put pen to paper without perforating the Basildon Bond.

    He had waited this long before communicating to her his observations on their separation because revenge, he had said, is a dish best served cold. From the way he was bent over the table, hackles high and emitting a low growl, however, it looked like he had just popped it into the microwave that morning.

    I call Gerrard my wife because that is really what he is. We own a flat together, we buy furniture together, we share the bills. We used to be good friends but we have now learned to work around each other and have carefully honed the art of avoiding breaking the kitchen implements when we do come to blows.

    Obviously, we don't sleep together — neither of us is homosexual — although we do pretend to be gay when convention demands. When we got the dog from the animal shelter, for instance, they wanted to know all sorts of stuff about us before they would hand him over. By presenting ourselves as lovers we appeared a more stable unit — and so a more fitting home for a former stray.

    Some people can't believe that me and Gerrard have been together for so long — ten years as flatmates in various accommodation — without feeling some kind of attraction to each other. So let me, at some suspicious length, clear this up once and for all. As far as I am concerned the Christian Right should stop conjuring up the leering spectres of predatory homosexuals seeking to enslave children into a life of dark lusts and just put up a picture of Gerrard's wan gob. The slogan `Men — do you want to wake up next to this?' would make the ideal advertisement for a wife and family.

    I have to say that for me homosexuality is an attractive idea as I understand men far better than I do women, but it would be too heavy a responsibility. I already have too many identities to answer to. Being gay would be one restraint too many — one more thing to be, to explain at parties.

    Homosexuality for Gerrard would be far too lofty an ambition; he is scarcely heterosexual, having only slept with three people in the last ten years. He tells me I meet the World Health Organisation definition of promiscuous. I tell him he meets the World Health Organisation definition of `loser'.

    I actually don't think I am promiscuous — although the WHO definition of two or more partners a year puts me in that fold. As I have pointed out to Gerrard, promiscuity is not defined by action, it is defined by intent.

    If I tell you that in my life I have slept with over forty women then you'll probably have one of two reactions. If you're a man then some part of you will think, `You roister toister, you sly old dog. Good on you, mate.' Some of you, of course, will think `Why so few?' but those on the average eleven or so partners will feel mildly envious.

    If you're a woman you may think of me as an emotional pauper with the morals of a cabinet minister. But there is a defence.

    Given the fact that I'm running at nearly four times the national shag average, it is ironic, and a little sad, that ever since I went out with my first girlfriend at sixteen (I started late) I have had one aim: to find my life partner, to make it to the big relationship — what we used to call marriage. I am gagging for it.

    It's not like I used to be particularly fussy — all I wanted was someone who looked better out of a Hallowe'en mask than in one and who wasn't too demanding — and it's not like I'm ugly. In the course of my life up to that Saturday morning forty-three women had been attracted enough to me to allow me to suck their fits, put my penis in their mouths, dress up in a variety of clothing that I demur from describing, tie them up, spank them, have arguments with me about why I won't let them do that to me, have straightforward sex with or without condoms, shag them in the bathroom, garden, pub toilets, tube train and other locations too unbelievable to record. At least three have, against my finer sensibilities, prevailed on me to sodomise them — one on her friend's bed. But a lifetime of gently exploring each other's personalities, reaping the rich reward of companionship as we approach our mellow years? No, thank you. They don't want that, these women, at least not from me, and that really is the only thing I ever wanted from them. How many women have I slept with? More than I would have chosen to, that's for sure.

    I was reflecting on this as Gerrard, across the breakfast table from me, continued to thump at his letter with his pen, face rigid with anger and head weaving like a boxer's in a grudge fight. Women are all around me. To write his letter Gerrard had borrowed a pen given to me by an ex-girlfriend, I was wearing a shirt that an ex-girlfriend bought for me and sitting in a flat that my last girlfriend thought was bohemian but my present one thinks stinks. Even the location of the flat — Fulham with its pearl necklaces and gun dog shit — was influenced by a previous girlfriend who originally bought into it with me and Gerrard, an ex-girlfriend whose `priorities have changed' and who now lives in Hoxton surrounded by installation artists.

    Before me on the table were the faces of my most important girlfriends, all the putative Mrs Chesshyres, in a box containing my holiday photos for the last ten or so years, softly rattling as the table moved to the torment of Gerrard's pen.

    I had this out for very good reason. My one proper female friend, Lydia, was visiting and I was trying to get myself into the mood to look upset that my girlfriend Emily had left that morning for a tent in Antarctica with fifty-six blokes with beards. She would be gone for a year, and though I was sad, a bit, I couldn't help feeling that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It wouldn't really do to let Lydia see that. You have to do the right thing with women — look like you're sad when you should be sad, delighted for friends' successes, remember birthdays, anniversaries, etc. etc. It takes a lot for men to do this; I can't help feeling it would be better if we all got given a book at adolescence on `how to be human' in which we could mark the important dates.

    So, as I said, I had taken out the box of holiday photos to get myself nostalgic about stuff. Lydia is very important to me and she would expect to see me miserable. It's important to cultivate your female friends, they are necessary to your self-esteem. It means there is something more to you than the beer, football and fags. Crucially, it hints at emotional depth and this is a powerful aphrodisiac to women in my cultural group. You can drop it into conversation when you meet them. `I was saying this to my friend Lydia,' you can say or, `that's interesting, a very close friend of mine, Lydia, feels the same way.'

    I might also drop in the fact that Lydia is forty, to make me seem even more sensitive — gets on with older woman equals has great depth, being the prospective shag's equation. If you're after that kind of girl. I clearly don't mention the fact that I used to go out with her, that looks too much like obtaining a female friend by false pretences and gives the impression that I'm desperate enough to go out with someone eight years older. I am, in fact, that desperate but I just don't want to seem that way.

    If this is making me sound calculating then let me reassure you that I was genuinely sad Emily had gone to the South Pole, but more at the form — lovers part for a year — than at the content — Emily and Harry part for a year. I was sad like you are sad at a film. It reminded me of the time I had seen two baboons making love at London Zoo. Unaccountably I had developed an erection. Did this mean I fancied baboons or was it just that the idea of sex had been suggested to me? Did I feel sad because Emily was going or was it just that the idea of sadness had been suggested to me? Was I upset? About as much as I fancy baboons.

    I don't discount the convenience of the framework, of the formal side of relationships, having a girlfriend, of doing the right things, but I would one day like a little bit more. I would like the love bit.

    It's not like we haven't tried, we've given the relationship thing a very good go, me and the women; we've had all the structure in place, we've just made a mess of the execution. I've met three sets of parents, four sets of brothers, shagged a sister and been punched by an uncle. I call that giving it a go.

    We've done all the things that lovers are meant to do. Take my box of photos. Here's Kate, tense-faced outside the Louvre, then there's Kate tense-faced next to the gallery with the pipes outside. Here in the next packet is Sophie smiling womanfully in Wenceslas Square, despite the fact she wasn't speaking to me. Thumbing on we have Tabitha staring into space at the top of the Empire State Building. And look, on the bottom of the box a professional snap of an organ grinder with his monkey trying to cheer up Karen after I'd told her I didn't fancy her any more. He charged her £15 for the privilege.

    I have one here of Wendy, smiling and happy in St Mark's Square, Venice. She was later sea sick on a gondola and I wasn't sympathetic enough. Great memories, photographs I can show to friends and say, `Oh, look, here's us strangling each other. A magnificent backdrop, don't you think?'

    In fact the only time I enjoyed myself on a holiday was when I went to Cornwall with mad Linda. We had a great time camping until she got off with a bloke in a pony tail, our surf instructor. At least they look happy in the picture.

    Why had all these relationships failed, given so much effort on my part? My mother had asked a similar question when I'd finished with Wendy. `What's wrong with this one?'

    `I don't know, Mum,' I'd said, `we were just incompatible.'

    There was a brief pause.

    `Your father and I are incompatible and we've been married for thirty-five years,' she'd said with a proud catch in her voice.

    I couldn't explain to her how it never used to matter, this incompatibility, but it does now.

    Gerrard had a big thing about incompatibility. I could have shown him every girl in my box of pictures and there would be something — usually physical, but sometimes he'd remember an unpleasant personality trait — he didn't like.

    `What's wrong with her?' I'd say, showing him a picture of Caroline — anyone's idea of a good-looking girl, with a fantastic figure.

    `Breasts the wrong shape,' Gerrard would say.

    `They're breast-shaped, what shape should they be?'

    `They don't point up at the ends,' he would give an `I don't make the rules' sniff.

    I would ask him how he knew, seeing as he had never had a look up her jumper.

    `I just know,' he'd say.

    There were a variety of things that would turn Gerrard off girls: wearing designer clothes, being too `ballsy' in the American sense, having too much pubic hair, having an almost invisible line on the top lip, being too fat, being too thin, not having a kind face (I would say soppy), objecting to him farting, not agreeing with him, wearing Poison perfume (I was with him on that), going down the gym, looking unfit, liking to be dominated in sex, taking too much of a lead in sex, talking too much, being too quiet. The worst sin was being old, or rather going off the boil. He just did not find women of his own age, thirty-two, attractive. In fact, he didn't find the body of anyone over twenty-five attractive. `There is,' he would say, as if delivering the law unto the Israelites, `an appreciable difference between the body of a twenty-two-year-old and that of a twenty-seven-year-old.' It would cause him considerable anguish, thinking that if he ever found the right woman he was doomed to find her unattractive eventually. He had an image of himself forcing his way through sexual encounters with a drooping wife into his forties. I thought this showed a lack of self-knowledge. Gerrard would be much more likely to tell her she was getting old and unattractive and ask what she was going to do about it. There would be no forcing himself at all. Oh, plastic surgery, there was another of his dislikes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2002

    Really funny book

    I read this book while I was sailing back from Bermuda.. Everyone on the boat read it on the 5 day journey, and everyone laughed the whole time. Simple to read and extremely fun. Highly recommended for any guy who doesn't take himself to seriously. Not for English nerds.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2002

    Maybe it's me...

    Maybe it's me, but I read about 30 pages and put this book down. I had a hard time getting into it, understanding the humor, following what was going on...They introduce you to Harry with a letter he writes in the first chapter and then he's at home & i guess kinda thinking to himself & then we see his two friends. Then it gets hard to follow what is going on, he's thinking to himself, he's reminiscing about his family, then he's talking with his friends, he's looking at pics of old girlfriends, some girl decides to stop by, they are analyzing a letter his friend Gerrard wrote....where is he going with all of this?! I felt over-whelmed, did he want to introduce us to the character, his family? His friends?? Then mix past with present?? Then you hear about how Gerrard is a kind of womanizer, but I thought Harry was too? It's unclear what traits they have that seperate them. I guess this book isn't my cup of tea!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2002

    Girlfriend 44

    I've rarely laughed aloud as much as I did while reading this book. Mark Barrowcliffe's biting British humor kept my sides aching till the very last chapters. You almost have to root for this pompous arse of a main character, because if nothing else, he is, at least, honest... But just when you think he might be changing for the better, he goes and does something that makes you want to slap him again. It's an extremely enjoyable read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2001

    An insightful read into.....

    the thoughts and psychology of the modern men. The story's hilarity and somewhat frightening look into the minds of a male as he pursues his #44 girlfriend will make it hard for the reader to put the book down once he has started reading it. A must read for all,especially ladies!

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