Books read in 2014 3. – Starter for Ten – David Nicholls

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014eclecticchallenge2014_300

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative, Chronological Timeline

Format: Kindle

Published: 2003

Synopsis: Working class boy, Brian Jackson goes away to university and makes an utter mess of it. 107896He 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.

Rating: 3/5

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.

Day 9 – Most Overrated Book – David Nicholls and Ian McEwan

The words don’t get me started spring to mind. Narrowing this post down to just a few books was not easy, believe me. For this reason, I decided not to have another swing at 50 Shades of Grey when I have already blogged about it once. I don’t really feel that it is worthy of more of my blog space. So let’s just take it as a given that I think that 50 Shades, Twilight and their ilk are overrated and I’ll have a rant about some other books instead.

My first choice is One Day by David Nichols. This book went round my co-workers like a particularly virulent dose of the flu. Everybody loved it. Everybody thought it was tragic when… I was one of the last to succumb as I already knew it was probably not the sort of thing that I would like (due to my anti-romantic nature). Nevertheless, I gave in and bought a copy. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

It is quite a neat idea – the same day year after year but it quickly seemed that the days were not that different from each other, particularly at the beginning. Then there was the fact that both characters were unappealing but particularly Dexter. If the novel was building towards a romantic end


for these two, I felt that it seemed more than a little unfair on Emma, who although annoying was nowhere near as obnoxious as Dexter. So the romance was already alluding me.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t badly written and I have read another David Nicholls book which I did like better, I just thought it was a little forced and the characters seemed more like types than people. I wasn’t bothered really even though the events could be described as tragic. There was no emotional resonance. I felt like I should be saying please try harder.

My second choice is Solar by Ian McEwan but it could be any of his more recent novels. I used to quite like Ian McEwan and was happy studying him for my MPhil. I don’t know if my tastes have changed or if his writing


style has become more pretentious but I find it harder and harder to read his work. It seems, more and more, that he writes like a man in love with his own prose. The sentences scream off the page ‘look at me, look at how clever I am’. This is more than a little off putting.

His characters are also becoming more and more obnoxious. Michael Beard, the protagonist of Solar is a womaniser, he steals another’s ideas and claims an enormous amount of fame and money afterwards. I’m quite fond of unreliable narrators who are difficult to like but there was little that was appealing or even worthy of empathy. Again, I was left not caring about his inevitable downfall. It is disappointing that McEwan seems to have almost become a parody of himself.