I might as well be honest about this. I took against Paul Reizin, the author of this long account of a man's pere- grinations through the lonely hearts columns, even before I started reading. For one thing, Reizin once wrote a novel called Fiends Reunited. In my opinion, novels with puns in their titles should be illegal, especially if the pun in question seeks to cash in on an internet-based phenomenon that has already been widely discussed in the newspapers. For another, I was irritated to discover that Date Expectations - wince - carries no author photograph.
Given that the book is almost entirely concerned with first impressions (and I mean it in a Cilla-Black-kind-of-way, rather than a Jane-Austen-kind-of-way), this seemed mightily suspicious. It's all very well for Reizin to inform us that some poor woman has a face like an Easter Island statue, but upon what, pray, was she forced to gaze while sipping warm white wine in the St Martin's Lane branch of Browns? Hunk or haddock? I think we should be told.
Once I got stuck in, things grew even worse. The more I got to know him, the more Reizin grated on my nerves. I might as well have been on a blind date myself. A press release, not to mention the ecstatic blurb on the back of the book, promised that a good time would be had by both parties. My companion was described as "hilarious", "honest", "brilliant" and, most alluringly of all, "perceptive". No sooner had we cosied up, however, than it became apparent that this was very far from the case. Like many men, Reizin likes the sound of his own voice. In particular, he likes to tell the ladies a good joke. Unfortunately, these are rarely funny. Worse, he is the kind of chap who dishes up rancid cliches as if they were piping- hot revelations. It takes him only until page 50, for instance, to unveil that most hoary of stereotypes: the slightly mad, middle-aged woman with too many cats. "Ask in advance about cats," he notes, facing down this mythological creature at a greasy-spoon cafe in Peckham. "Excessive numbers are a negative indicator." Are they? Well, I'll be damned.
Reizin is a television producer - he works in "factual entertainment" - who, having found himself temporarily without a BBC contract, decides to have a go at writing a novel. (Since then, naturally, he has become a full-time writer.) But he is also a 44-year-old single male, one whose relationships tend to fizzle out around the two-year mark. Tired of being set up by his friends, Reizin decides to do something pro- active: he begins answering adverts in the Guardian's Soulmates section. He has no success, so he places his own ad. Most of his book is an account of the various dates on which he goes during this time.
On one occasion, he drinks too many Martinis, and returns from powdering his nose to find that his date has taken flight. On another, with the aforementioned cat woman, it is his turn to make a swift exit. He has some louche sex with a young nurse, and a more adult encounter with a single mother in Barnet. Crazy exploits, I think you'll agree. Then, finally, he meets Ruth. I can tell you, without any hint of guilt, that he marries Ruth and they have a baby; his publisher eagerly trumpets as much on the book's jacket. Reizin is, you see, "living proof" that it is possible to find happiness among the lonely hearts.
That Reizin is a flesh-and-blood testimony to the power of love, to the fact that a person can find "the one" at the end of a telephone, or in Cafe Rouge, is the key to this book - the reason it exists at all. Date Expectations is a publishing mongrel (though "mongrel" wrongly implies a certain lovability): the bastard child of Tony Parsons and John "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" Gray. It is, in other words, factual entertainment, which is a hoot, considering how much time Reizin spends telling us that he longs to escape from the world of make-overs and Dale Winton.
The message is that, once you have sorted the wheat from the chaff - for chaff, read "bubbly" fatties and moggie-lovers - the right girl, the one who likes your friends and laughs at your gags, will be out there. Date Expectations poses as a Spotter's Guide to Women, which implies that it was written with men in mind. But it is women who are the biggest buyers of books, and women who - if you believe the patronising myth - require light to fall on the shadowy male psyche. This one is for us, then. Once I'd worked this out, I fell into a Very Black Mood. Curiously for a woman, I feel much the same way about being talked down to as I do about cats.
Rachel Cooke writes for the Observer