Sometimes you just need to read something that is easy-going and enjoyable, without any horrible twists or difficult plot lines. A novel that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, which is in essence what makes it so great. Something funny and simple with a happy ending and likeable characters.
And I have found the perfect one, it is a novel called Starter for Ten by David Nicholls. Now, I read One Day and didn’t enjoy it very much but this one caught my attention because it was about a nerdy guy that was pretty much socially inept, this caught my eye because I can relate to this on a spiritual level.
But joking aside, it was an enjoyable novel with a happy ending and I even managed to learn some things.
Three stars! (there are clearly going to be spoilers)
The plot was simple and easy to follow. Young, socially inept ‘genius’ boy goes to university (surprisingly NOT Oxford or Cambridge!), meets some people, falls hopelessly in love with a girl guaranteed to break his heart, she – inevitably – does and the novel ends with him falling for the girl he should have chosen from the beginning. Very much a basic, happy-go-lucky rom-com. But sometimes, that is exactly what you need.
Luckily, Starter for Ten also has the added bonus of the University Challenge aspect as socially inept Brian Jackson joins the team for his university. The competition follows alongside the more mundane storyline and makes it way more interesting – you know, if one is interested in the inner workings of a University Challenge team.
The plot is not altogether predictable – the girl breaking his heart is completely inevitable but the rest of it is actually not as easy to guess.
Having Brian fail in his ambition to succeed in the University Challenge not only gives him a more real quality but also makes the actual plot more enjoyable as it gives him more of a chance to grow and develop.
He fails to achieve this goal because after an excellent scene where Brian headbutts the ever-so pretentious Patrick Watts in the nose and succeeds in giving himself concussion, he sees the list of answers to their questions and ruins it for himself by attempting to answer a question that the presenter had not yet finished asking…
Unfortunately, the accidental cheating causes him to abandon his university course BUT does, luckily, appear to be the spark he needs to abandon his pursuit of Alice Harbinson.
My favourite part of the novel was actually the side-plot about his best friend Spencer. It helped to stop the novel being quite as basic and predictable and also shows the more negative side of Brian to start with as all he wants is for Spencer to leave so he can go back to his new life… but in time, he realises how awfully he has treated his friends and family from home and by the end of the novel is making it up to them.
Brian Jackson: Bri is your typical rom-com character, intelligent, outspoken and just a bit nerdy. But he does seem to be at least slightly more interesting than some other rom-com characters because he actually appears to be more of a three-dimensional character than many others. The protagonist that just really wants to escape Southend (I understand completely) and make the most of his time at university. Unfortunately, as most male characters in rom-com do, he quickly abandons this in favour of chasing a pretty girl.
Alice Harbinson: The love interest. Not much more than that really, she also symbolises the wealthy middle-class that Bri has such an issue with so it is obvious that they are never going to work. Alice is a drama student who is on the University Challenge team with Bri, she isn’t unintelligent just lacking in common sense, and really just nasty. She also has the weirdest relationship with her parents ever but you’ll have to read to find out!
Rebecca Epstein: Clearly the girl of his dreams, regardless of what he seems to think! They have the same values and ideals and all the time they spend together is easy and fun instead of constantly awkward and fraught with silences where Bri thinks Alice is going to laugh. Rebecca is a Jewish law student who spends most of her time protesting against all of the things that Alice stands for. Her Jewish heritage is simply part of her and isn’t made a big deal of, this is how representation should be done. With a well-rounded, interesting character that just happens to be Jewish instead of a character where their entire personality is based on this one thing about them, be it their religion, heritage or sexuality.
Spencer: Probably my favourite character. Spencer is Bri’s friend from home that – despite being extremely intelligent – decides that he doesn’t want to go to university, much to Brian’s chagrin. He decides to stay in Southend and begins working at a petrol garage. This goes badly. He gets himself in trouble and runs away to stay with Bri for a while. Whilst staying in Brian’s very small university accommodation, he causes many issues including punching the leader of the University Challenge team in the face, perhaps not his finest hour. But he shows how much Brian has changed – or at least, how much Bri thinks he has changed. Spencer is an extremely lovable character that simply needs a bit of support in life that Brian was not willing to give him.
Something that I actually really enjoyed about this novel was that it was the boy chasing the girl. So many chick-flicks have the girl chasing the boy that is completely wrong for her only to find that the dorky guy she sits next to in Maths is actually the love of her life. So, whilst this is still an utterly overused trope, it was fun to see it in a slightly different context with the dorky guy at the centre making all the stupid decisions instead of the girl.
The plot is fun, most of the characters are great and overall I think that it is a good read. Definitely not the best book I’ve ever read but sometimes you just need something a bit light-hearted and easy and this definitely ticks those boxes.