The reason why I bought this book is actually a funny one. The clue is in the title. So I wasn’t aware of this english expression “starter for 10”, the first time I saw it I was quite puzzled and made a comment such as “but the meeting is at 09”. Starter for 10 comes from a tv show called University challenge, similar to “who wants to be a millionaire” and it’s currently used to mean a draft, or a start at something.
Is David Nicholls’ Starter for Ten a throwback? Many readers look back with nostalgia to a recent golden age of comic writing, when David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury and Tom Sharpe were producing some achingly funny work, with brilliantly realised characters. But Nicholls’ sharp-as-nails novel has all the comic acumen of his great predecessors (along with their frequently-utilised university campus milieu) and, like Lodge and co., Nicholls writes real characters, not just boobies suitable only for pratfalls and sexual embarrassment. So even though the situations may often be ridiculous, we’re still engaged by the protagonists.
Here, they are university student Brian Jackson and aspiring actress Alice Harbinson. Brian has arrived at his place of learning with a stronger desire than the acquisition of knowledge: he’s going to be a star of TV’s hottest quiz. But his progress on “The Challenge” is somewhat stymied by his growing desire for the beguiling Alice, struggling to make her mark as an actress. And as obstacles impede their affair, Brian becomes more and more convinced that only overwhelming success on the quiz show will win her.
What makes this novel such a delight, apart from the strongly drawn characters (both major and minor) is the coruscating dialogue: Nicholls writes comic dialogue like a dream, and his targets are many and varied: the idiocies of love and sex, the ludicrous pursuit of meaningless TV celebrity, fat cat businessmen lining their pockets–you name it, and it’s probably here; Starter for Ten is a panoply of modern Britain with all its glories and excesses writ large. Nicholls wrote the third series of the hit TV series Cold Feet, which is as good a demonstration of his credentials as one could wish for. But Starter for Ten is his best work; there are no false notes struck by miscast actors, just prose that has a comic energy not often encountered these days. —Barry Forshaw
Finished it today during my flight. It’s actually quite an easy read. Apparently there’s a movie as well
Books read in 2014: 18!