Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Narrative Style: First Person Narrative, Chronological Timeline
Synopsis: Working class boy, Brian Jackson goes away to university and makes an utter mess of it. He enrolls for University Challenge in order to impress posh girl, Alice and spends the rest of the novel chasing after her hopelessly. He also finds time to annoy his childhood friends and just about anyone else who has the misfortune to bump into him.
I thought I’d try to get this genre out of the way near the beginning as I have very little patience with the idea of romance even when joined with the more fun genre of comedy. I’d read One Day and The Understudy which were both okay so I thought I’d give Starter for Ten a go.
I thought that I might be able to identify with Brian Jackson, a working class boy going off to university albeit in the 80s and I went in the 90s, however he was very quickly unlikeable and annoying. Of course, Nicholls’ aim was undoubtedly to show a young man’s journey from annoying little boy to mature and sensible man but Brian never seems to learn any lessons and, indeed, at the end he is still making the same stupid mistakes.
While I understand that a working class boy at university might meet a lot of people who were posher than him, most of the characters in this book seem to be stereotypes of one type or another, none of which are very pleasant. This is also true of Jackson’s working class friends from home. I don’t know if Nicholls was trying to make a point about class difference but it was somewhat lost because none of these characters seemed like real people.
The romance with Alice is supposed to be amusing and Brian’s patheticness is a little funny, I guess but mostly I just wished he would wake up and realise that she was stringing him along. Alice is contrasted with Glaswegian socialist worker Rebecca who is angry and tough (Just another stereotype) and much more Brian’s type if only he could see it. I chose this book because I thought I’d find a romance with a male protagonist less annoying. It turns out that this was not true. Reading this reminded me of reading Bridget Jones’ Diary. I wanted to shake him just about all the way through.
The University Challenge storyline is more amusing and (unsurprisingly) I found all the angsty romance a little distracting at times. I do think that there are parts of this story that could have been developed and maybe then Brian’s character would have developed a bit more. Because he viewed Alice as some sort of unattainable beauty queen, as long as he is involved with her, he will always remain a boy.
The end of the book was not a surprise. I won’t spoil it but needless to say Brian has not learned his lesson. Even though he will be starting again at a new university, he has learned nothing and there is potential for the same mistakes being made.
Finally, all the way through this book, Nicholls makes reference to great works of literature – Tender is the Night, Brideshead Revisited, Great Expectations, to name but a few. If you are going to remind people of some of the best works in the English language, it might be a good idea to write a better book. All the many references made me think was, I wish I was reading that instead of this.