Book review: Starter for Ten

I loved David Nicholls’ One Day, so I decided to go back and find out what else he had written. Somehow I completely missed this book, even though, as my flatmate rightly pointed out, it was made into a film a few years ago starring a few pretty big names (Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, James Corden, James McAvoy).

It follows Brian Jackson as he leaves his childhood home behind and moves to Bristol to start an English Literature degree. When he was a kid, Brian and his dad would watch University Challenge together, and since his father died when he was 12, he knew he wanted to be on the show one day. As soon as he gets to uni, he signs up to be on a team. Meanwhile, he falls in love with the beautiful and perfect Alice, a team mate, and we follow him as he struggles with love, university, being on the team, his exploding acne and general social awkwardness.

If there is one thing that this book is, it is awkward. God, so many cringe-worthy moments. You just so want Brian to do well, but he is such an enormous tit. Whether it’s violently scrubbing his face to get rid of the spots (and then trying hard not to move his face once it is dry because he fears the skin will crack and his spots with bleed! Gross, but I totally remember this from being a teenager) or the way he fawns over Alice or the way he treats his friends from back home once he’s at uni, he is just a massive loser. Yet still you kind of love him. He just keeps fucking up over and over again.

I suppose that by the time I was 18 I wasn’t too bad – I certainly thought I was pretty hot stuff during my gap year, but there were so many points during this where I was cringing not only for poor Bri, but for memories of myself being equally idiotic at some point during my teens.  Really.  I am horrified at being nearly 30, but also really super glad I’m not 16 anymore.

The person who plays Brian in the film (James McAvoy) is way too smooth to be Brian from the book. I’m sorry James, but you are hot. Brian is not hot. I don’t think I could enjoy this as a movie, just because McAvoy is too good looking and sure of himself to get across the pain of being that age, but it was definitely worth reading.  A mostly enjoyable (sometimes painful) book and I laughed a lot on the tube as I read it, which is always a good sign.

Starter for Ten

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